A Message to Adjuncts, Part-timers and other Exploited Faculty on the Occasion of the Proposed Contract

By Andy Battle

Dear Adjuncts, Part-timers and other Exploited Faculty:

I write to you because we are in a special time. Your union has just presented you with a contract that has the power to shape how you live and you will be asked to give your approval. The union will present you with the details of the agreement they have negotiated, but beyond the bare numbers will give you little context and few tools with which to evaluate whether this is truly in your interest. What little analysis you will hear will come from the officials who negotiated the contract. The fact is they are tired and demoralized and sincerely believe that we have no hope of doing better. They are afraid to strike because they know we are weak—the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby we refuse to prepare for a confrontation in any sense beyond the purely rhetorical. They have released the contract in the dead of summer, when they know the fewest number of people will be paying attention and there will be as few opportunities as possible for you to discuss it with the other people who will be affected by what they have decided on your behalf. Both management and the union leadership are counting on your isolation.

We are part-time faculty. We make up the majority of the people for whom this contract was negotiated. We have to ask what it does for us. The answer, if you look, is not much. The raises we will receive barely keep pace with inflation—the true measure of what the money will get you—and don’t even come close to matching the increase in what it has cost to live in this city since 2009. In that sense, management and the union leadership are asking you to accept a pay cut, with the threat of extended punishment should you say no. The other provisions ratify our subordinate status, despite the fact that we constitute an always-growing majority. The “signing bonus,” which would be unnecessary in a contract that promised actual relief, will be pro-rated for all except those who already make the most money. The promised workload reduction is intended only for the shrinking full-time minority and there is no indication that it will not be used to increase the pool of adjuncts working at what will continue to be poverty-level wages. The leadership even appears to have acquiesced to an opening salvo in the drive to eliminate tenure, in the form of 250 appointments for “full-time faculty on one-year contracts, without access to tenure.” Anyone who is wondering what such appointments look like can take a peek across the Hudson, where they already exist. Does anyone believe management intends to stop there?

In short, the contract is a bruiser and contains little substantive resistance to the forty-year assault on working people the PSC rightly bemoans. It’s not that there is nothing worth having in the contract. For people living hand-to-mouth, as we do, some money is obviously better than no money. The possibility of a three-year appointment is better than freaking out every four months that you may be thrown to the curb by your ostensible colleagues. But in the grand scheme of things, this is nibbling around the edges and plugging your ears in the hope that next contract, the problem might go away. But if you consider this contract in the broader trajectory of our working conditions, the signs for the future are not promising. Think about it—union leadership had to take extraordinary measures this time, in the form of a threatened strike, simply to secure a marginally-less humiliating settlement from management, and one that not only preserves but ratifies and widens the two-tier system and the gross violation of basic principle it represents. It makes you wonder what new dances we will be asked to perform next time to be allotted the privilege of another dose.

We have to ask ourselves whether we are willing to continue living like this. This round of negotiations has shown that any change in our situation is not going to come from above. We have three options. We can remain resigned and helpless, submitting to both the macro and micro humiliations shoveled onto part-time faculty each and every day. We can continue to believe in illusions—that someone who is not us will fix it, that the union has a plan, that the next contract will be different. Or we can face the situation soberly, reject the immediate short-term perspective and realize that the interests not just of ourselves as individuals, but of our students, our colleagues, and all New Yorkers who work for a living demand that we figure out how to say “no—it stops here”—and then figure out how to organize ourselves to make that “no” count.

Many worry, and rightly, about what will happen to us if we dare to say “no.” There is no question that I am asking us to consider a road that in the short term promises no small amount of uncertainty and, yes, pain. And if there are clear, pre-defined steps for going about a project as daunting as this, I have never been made privy to them. What I do know is that the first step is to say “no.” The rest follows and can only follow from the consequences of that refusal. I do believe that we, the rank-and-file, are capable of much more than what is asked of us by the leadership and maybe even a little more than we ourselves presently understand. I know because we are human beings and because we are teachers. If you’re one of those people who still gets a little nervous every time they have to enter the classroom, but still can’t wait to do it, I suspect you know what I mean.

So yes, I am calling for something more radical than what the union leadership is offering. I reject the idea that it’s crazy or unrealistic. What to me is unrealistic is the idea that by accepting a brutally concessionary contract such as this one we are opposing austerity in any meaningful way, which is what the PSC leadership rightfully exhorts us to do but, for reasons I do not understand, will not summon the imagination to address.

Sometimes I ask students what to them is the definition of “radical.” And I give them mine. I tell them that “radical” comes from the Latin word radix, meaning “root.” In other words, radical acts are ones that question and reshape fundamental principles. In order to confront the scale and nature of the attacks on our principles—the ones we live every day through our commitment to students—we need to contemplate radical acts. In our position, the radical becomes rational. The first act is to recognize that we cannot and say that we will not live like this any longer. The second is to organize ourselves to take advantage of the only power we have, which consists in numbers, commitment, and a higher vision. This contract asks us for none of that and as such is unworthy of the work we do. We have to insist on something better, and the first step is to say no.

What is “The Student” ?

On Wednesday May 11, CUNY Struggle held the first in a series of open forum discussions about issues central to university organizing, titled “What is the Student?”

The event drew undergraduate students, graduate student-workers, as well as adjunct and full-time professors, who gathered to debate and articulate the ideological underpinnings of a CUNY movement, and specifically the place of the “student” within such a movement.

To really have a productive conversation on this topic, it was useful to clearly delineate our understandings of what is, what ought to be, and how we conceive of the process which will bring us from point A to point B. Therefore we need not isolate empirical analysis from more abstract political analysis, no less from our aspirations for a better world.

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Join Us on the Verizon Picket Line

Today CUNY Struggle teamed up with the Adjunct Project and the Graduate Center chapter of the PSC for the first of a series of pickCim-xI7XIAAnTR2ets in solidarity with striking Verizon workers. We will be posted up at the Herald Square location (1293 Broadway) at 5:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays until Verizon caves in and does right by its workers! We feel small gestures of solidarity like this are necessary not only to build our capacities within the CUNY system, but to build and strengthen ties of practical solidarity with the broader NYC working class. Click here for more information about these pickets, or else just come find us in the streets!

An Overwhelming Yes on Strike Authorization—What Now?

The strike authorization vote is in and the result is an overwhelming yes. Moreover, participation was significant, with over 10,000—around half the membership—registering a vote. The leadership has got what it wants—now what do they intend to do with it?

One possibility is that the leadership has ruled out striking and plans to use the vote purely as a bargaining chip to pressure the state to come up with a better economic offer. If this is the case, it would indicate that the leadership remains unwilling to transcend the status quo but finds itself compelled to use increasingly dramatic measures simply to maintain the present rate of decline in our working conditions. The other is that they have not made up their minds and remain open to the idea of a strike.

13118868_10156868310095594_437814942962033573_nIf the latter, no one knows what the magic number is that will cause Barbara Bowen & Co. to throw up their hands and resort to what in our view is the only tactic that can secure even the bread-and-butter goals of this ostensibly social-justice union—labor’s most powerful weapon, a strike. In the PSC press release and Bowen’s e-mail message to members, Bowen refers simply to a “decent economic offer” without providing specifics. The only thing we know for certain is that the union has rejected CUNY’s insulting pay-cut offer of last November. Moreover, we don’t know which of the 35 demands ratified way back in 2010 the bargaining team is pushing hard on and which are expendable, given that the union, in Bowen’s words, “remains absolutely committed to achieving an acceptable contract through the negotiating process.”

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A Little History of PSC Pledges to Adjuncts, or, Our Leaders Weren’t Always So Timid About Dismantling the Two-Tier System

by Ruth Wangerin

If adjuncts want documentation to cite in lobbying for a significant pay increase in the contract currentCUOI5h5WcAA13u2-640x360ly in negotiation/mediation, they might refer to the following PSC records from 2004, 2007, and 2010.


In 2004, the PSC was committed to parity for adjuncts in income and working conditions. They worried about the impact of the 9/6 rule on adjuncts’ livelihoods and promised to debate and discuss it fully. They even passed a resolution at the Delegate Assembly in Sept. 2004 to continue discussing the 9/6 issue:

Whereas the achievement of parity for adjuncts in income and professional working conditions is the contractual goal of the PSC, and

Whereas injury to one group is injury to all in a fully committed union of workers, and

Whereas improvement of the 9/6 rule has long been deferred, a more sensitive and sensible adjunct workload policy could make a favorable difference in how adjuncts view the union, and

Whereas the May 2004 Delegate Assembly meeting ended with assurance of further discussion at this meeting on the 9/6 matter, now therefore

Resolved, that the PSC undertake a discussion on solidarity across the ranks during Campus Equity Week and the formation of a working group to start discussing adjunct workload (9/6 policy), but in privacy.  

Continue reading “A Little History of PSC Pledges to Adjuncts, or, Our Leaders Weren’t Always So Timid About Dismantling the Two-Tier System”

The Faculty Caste System: Auto-Ethnography of an Adjunct

We are reprinting, with the author’s permission, a fantastic piece by our comrade Ruth Wangerin from College of Staten Island, a fierce adjunct organizer with whom we are fortunate enough to collaborate. CUNYStruggle.org welcomes submissions about the lived experience of the CUNY system, and this piece is exemplary to that effect. We have posted Part I, which originally appeared on New Faculty Majority, and have linked to Part II, on the same site.


cropped-Buttons-header-photo1A button designed by Anne Wiegard for a UUP event says, “I was contingent before contingents were cool.” Well, I was contingent before anyone had even heard of “contingents.” Specifically, I was hired by the City College of New York in 1970 as an adjunct lecturer when I was in grad school. At that time, the City University of New York did not have graduate assistantships. I have since learned that CUNY had a lot of adjuncts back then, particularly in continuing education courses for which students paid tuition (CUNY was free otherwise, back then).

I was in a regular department teaching undergraduates. It felt like a privilege to get the experience. I loved the anthropology department at City College, it was fun being a “professor” at my young age, and the money helped. However, I wasn’t altogether naïve. I could see that the college was being pretty cheap with us, not only in the rate of pay but also in taking their sweet time getting our first paychecks out each term.

Continue reading “The Faculty Caste System: Auto-Ethnography of an Adjunct”

Rank-and-file Unionism at the University of Washington

Since at least the 1970s, internal union reform efforts in the US have focused on two issues—the inability of long-entrenched union leaderships to resist mounting attacks on workers, plus a recognition on the part of the most creative and militant rank-and-filers that in order to have any real chance of resisting those attacks, we have to question the seemingly prescribed limits of our struggles. Both of these things are happening right now at the University of Washington, where a rank-and-file caucus called UW Academic Workers for a Democratic University (UW-AWDU) is struggling to change the bylaws of their UAW local in order that the union become more genuinely run by and for the workers.

Pencil and fist

UW-AWDU began in 2014 when a group of rank-and-file members of UAW Local 4121, which represents over 4,000 student-workers at the University of Washington, met to discuss their dissatisfaction with the current leadership, some of whom have remained in place for anywhere between eight and twelve years. What UW-AWDU seeks is to make their union stronger, more ambitious, more democratic, and more connected to the social movements going on around it. They began by reaching out to over twenty student organizations to build “Reclaim UW,” a student-led coalition that fights for social and economic justice at the university. Working alongside student groups, UW-AWDU has expanded the idea of what a labor union exists to do, conducting teach-ins, radical history tours, and campaigns to support fired custodians, connecting with striking Seattle teachers, fighting for budget transparency, and contesting the UAW International Board’s effort to undemocratically nullify a California student-worker local’s resolution in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Their most impressive action to date was to disrupt a tony dinner party for the university’s Board of Regents (an august group that routinely violates the state’s open meetings law), demanding that the university, Seattle’s largest employer, honor the city’s $15 an hour minimum wage law. In case you were wondering whether direct action gets the goods, consider this sentence from the Seattle Times’ article on the “Reclaim the Regents” action:

The regents and UW police tried to wrest control of the meeting from the protesters but were shouted down by nearly 100 people packed into a lounge on the building’s first floor. After about 20 minutes, the regents fled to a downstairs dining room in the UW Club, leaving plates of uneaten appetizers on the table.

Within days, the university had announced an increase in wages to $11, and six months later announced a second increase that puts 5,500 workers, including student-workers, on track to receive the $15 minimum by 2017. This makes the University of Washington the first school in the country to agree to a $15 an hour wage for all workers, including student workers.

Having shown what a mobilized membership can achieve, UW-AWDU is now engaged in a fight to formalize a set of principles that would pave the way to a more transparent, democratic, and ultimately more militant and effective union. The changes they have proposed to the bylaws of their UAW local seek to:

  1. Institute term limits and shorter term lengths for elected leaders
  2. Tie union staff salaries to the median academic student employee wage
  3. Ensure that union leaders are active academic student employees
  4. Increase transparency of union staff positions and contact info
  5. Secure the right for union staff to collectively bargain in their own union

What these provisions all have in common is that they reduce the gap between union leaders and staff and the workers they represent. If adopted, they would establish an environment where workers do not passively await the outcome of opaque negotiations between inside players, but instead represent themselves and their interests. This is a recipe for a more engaged membership, one that feels it has a stake not just in the result of collective bargaining, but in how it is achieved and what the union ultimately exists to do. These efforts follow similar campaigns to democratize union locals at NYU, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of California, where AWDU and similar caucuses have won important battles aimed at creating stronger organizations that can fight not only for contract-to-contract bread and butter, but combat the root causes of the crisis in higher education that keeps us for the moment poor and demobilized. Only broad-based mobilizations of the kind imagined by UW-AWDU and its reform allies stand a chance of turning back the neoliberal tide and paving the way for the kind of university we—the faculty, students, and workers who make all this happen—want to see.

Continue reading “Rank-and-file Unionism at the University of Washington”