$7K or Strike organizers, including CUNY Struggle, waged a fierce Vote No campaign against the new contract. We pointed out many loopholes that undermine the few crumbs we won and the inevitable budget cuts that would result, since the state and city didn’t commit new revenue for every gain in the contract. Not even a month since the contract was ratified, we are already hearing about cuts across CUNY caused by the contract. We report them here to be distributed widely, so that we can all stay vigilant of any attempts by our bosses to exploit the weaknesses of the new contract.
City Tech English department is attempting to use the new paid office hour to staff the Writing Lab.
In Fall 2019, the City Tech administration closed the school’s Writing Lab, leaving students with little support for their writing needs. The Vote No campaign warned that the contract language establishing new paid office hours for adjuncts is so vague that it permits the administration to assign extra work during these office hours, for example, tutoring students in writing. The City Tech English department tried to do just that, announcing that, in the spring, adjuncts are to spend their new office hours tutoring any student who might walk in needing help with their essay. Conversely, students are being directed to the English adjunct department office when they need tutoring: they are being told to look for anyone who might be available to help them. Adjunct labor is being redirected to make up for cuts elsewhere; adjuncts are replacing the Writing Lab. So much for the PSC’s argument that the office hour will compensate adjuncts for the work they already do, like grading papers and meeting with their own students! What’s more, the City Tech PSC Chapter initially refused to step in, on the grounds that this kind of extra work is technically contractually permitted. Adjuncts pressed several times before the PSC ultimately took up the grievance:at the time of writing it is still being handled.
Hunter administration refuses to pay adjuncts teaching Composition for the new office hour.
Adjuncts at Hunter who teach English composition, a three-credit course, have historically been paid for four hours as compensation for an extra “conference hour” to work with students individually. PSC executives at multiple meetings have insisted that any adjunct teaching a three-credit course for four paid hours would be paid for a fifth hour – an office hour – under the new contract. But the Hunter administration plans to subsume the new office hour into the existing conference hour for adjuncts teaching composition. Worse yet, adjuncts teaching two sections of composition will see a pay cut, since the professional hour for teaching at least six credits will also be subsumed into the new office hour provision. English adjuncts, along with the English department chair and the PSC, are still fighting this grievance at the time of writing. This cat-and-mouse game could have been completely avoided if the contract language were tighter, but since PSC executives refuse to bargain openly, the rank-and-file had no input during negotiations and will never know why our bargaining team conceded to such a weak provision.
ARC Fellowship for graduate students eliminated.
One provision in the new contract allocates money to provide health insurance to Graduate Center students who are represented by the PSC but don’t already receive health insurance through a funding package or adjuncting. Rather than seek new funding from the state to pay for this, CUNY is instead cutting the Graduate Center’s Advanced Research Collaborative budget by 95%. ARC currently offers paid fellowships to roughly a couple dozen doctoral students each year, in addition to awards for full-time faculty. Although the latter will remain, student ARC fellowships will be completely eliminated. This has been confirmed by the Director of ARC.
New $320 tuition hikes for our students.
PSC executives said that the city and state committed tens of millions of dollars to pay for adjunct office hours. But what about the rest of the contract gains, including the 2% annual increases? When pressed on this question at a Retirees chapter meeting, PSC President Barbara Bowen admitted that Cuomo has not agreed to increase CUNY’s budget to pay for these increases. For the past three years, CUNY cannibalized around 2% of its annual budget to pay for the raises in our last contract. While this policy of “internal financing” is likely to continue, it appears that some of the costs of our contract will be borne on the backs of our students. Despite a rowdy protest by our comrades in Free CUNY, the Board of Trustees voted on December 16 to increase student tuition by $320: $200 as part of a five-year “rational” tuition plan and a new $120 student wellness fee. The bottom line is that without new budget money for contract items like raises, the PSC’s “wins” will continue to create losses throughout the CUNY system—borne mostly by our working class students—as admins just shuffle money out of already starved programs to meet contract obligations. PSC executives know this, but don’t put up a real fight because the alternative to capitulating to Cuomo’s austerity regime would require actual labor militancy.
Class cancellations explicitly due to the new contract.
While voting on the contract, we had already heard that BMCC was planning on cutting 300 classes in spring 2020, likely in anticipation of budget shortfalls caused by contract gains unpaid by the city. At Hunter, we have recently heard of widespread class cancellations due to the contract. Chairs of the German, English, Theatre, and Sociology departments have confirmed verbally that classes are being cancelled to meet budgetary constraints caused specifically by unfunded provisions in the contract. PSC executives at Hunter have tried to explain that the increase in class cuts resulted from a logistical snafu, in which classes were scheduled based on departments’ wish lists without budgetary adjustments. But this explanation flies in the face of department chairs’ accounts. No doubt, similar cuts are happening across the CUNY system.
Clearly management is finding loopholes within loopholes and PSC executives are not holding true to their promises. We welcome comments and emails from any and all adjuncts who are witnessing similar shoddy or dishonest employment practices across CUNY campuses and departments. The vote may be over, but in some ways our fight has only just begun.