Vote NO on the Two-Tier System!

The question of how to vote on the proposed PSC contract is simpler than it may appear. At its core, this vote is a referendum on the two-tier system of labor at CUNY and universities across the country. A YES vote is a vote to continue the deepening of the two-tier system. A NO vote is a vote to reject this system and to chart a different path.777f1fb01e1ca02ade1059a27548621e

We are told there is a third option: to support this contract as it is, and fight to close the gap in the next one. As we have documented, this is the same line adjuncts have been fed by the New Caucus for over decade, an appeal to the eternal “next time,” which never ever comes. In 2007 President Bowen announced a “multi-contract strategy”, to be spread across three contracts. As usual, adjuncts were told they had to wait for pay parity, which was pushed to “Phase III”, the third of three contracts. Guess which contract that is? This one! And now… we’re being told to wait for the next next time? 

Under the two-tier system, one increasingly shrinking proportion of the union (full time faculty) earn proportionately higher wages for the same work done by an increasingly growing contingent of the union (adjunct faculty). The former enjoys job security while the latter is consigned to precarity which worsens as wages fail to keep up with inflation, to say nothing of New York rents. But this is not simply a matter of full-timers winning and adjuncts losing. As the gap grows, and inequality increases, our power to collectively bargain weakens, and on a long enough time frame, we all lose. 

And why is this gap growing? Because with each contract that offers flat, percentage-based increases in wages, as the current contract does, our “social justice” union enforces one of the main rules of capitalism: those who make more money… end up making more money. Ten percent of Paul Krugman’s disgusting $250k salary — to study income inequality! — is roughly what a full-time adjunct can expect to make teaching eight courses in a single year. And ten percent of the more modest $75,000/year is still a whole different story than ten percent of $2,900 per class, and next time around, ten percent of that will only worsen the divide. To compound this, the PSC engages in “pattern bargaining” — accepting similar flat-rate raises as unions like DC 37, none of whose employees are paid the sub-minimum wage rates of an adjunct professor. The result of this practice, which has no place in a union with a majority of adjuncts, is a disaster for the most vulnerable members of the PSC, for whom pattern bargaining ensures wages will continue to lag further behind those of full-time faculty with every contract.

For years the PSC leadership has paid lip service to closing the gap. But in every new contract the PSC has refused to put its money where its mouth is. Even if we are to assume that there is a finite amount of money to be distributed across CUNY — a contention that CUNY Struggle firmly rejects, as history teaches us this sum is determined by our level of struggle, not a set budget — any contract deserving of a YES vote will have to distribute more equitably the available funds, signaling a strong commitment to raising up the most exploited members of the union. Even if this is the most money we can get, the only contract deserving of a yes vote will disproportionately prioritize those among us living in poverty, and establish our bargaining unit as a cohesive bloc capable of acting in solidarity, instead of a tale of two cities, which is what it is now.

This is not a moral argument, though there is of course a great moral wrong about the income inequality at CUNY, with which far too many “progressive” and “radical” faculty seem all too comfortable. At root, however, this is a question of our collective power as workers. The old slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” is not a moral imperative that cuts against individual self interest. It is a practical reality of how class struggles are fought and won. Attacks on the lowest paid members of any union serve to devalue the labor of the entire union and to degrade the value of labor power and working conditions over time. In the tragic history of US unionism, management across industries has relied on the highest paid workers to take deals which appeal to short-term gratification, at the expense of their low paid colleagues, and more importantly, to the detriment of long term working class power in the entire industry. What’s true in the UAW is true in the PSC.

To those who question the strategy of the NO campaign, we ask: Why did it take six years to get a contract? Why did it take five years to organize a direct action campaign? Where was the grassroots support on the campuses? For decades adjuncts have been organizing to advance their demands, gathering petitions, speaking out at the Delegate Assembly, patiently explaining their plight to PSC leadership and full-timers, only to have their plight fall on deaf ears, time and again. In the interest of not fighting the two-tier system, adjuncts are consistently demobilized, their grievances silenced, their activism ignored, their demands placated with empty promises, and after decades of undercutting their potential as a militant force in the union, the bureaucrats scratch their heads and wonder why it’s so hard to energize the rank and file! It doesn’t have to be this way.

The YES camp is rebuking us for lack of strategy, because the only real message of their failed strategy is “there is no alternative” — and we are that alternative. Our strategy is very simple: we are the movement that stands up against the two-tier system, here and now. Instead of ignoring adjunct demands and deferring them to the eternal “next time”, we embrace and build on a grassroots basis the power of contingent labor that is being squandered daily by PSC leadership and their bankrupt strategy. By coordinating a NO vote and forcing onto the table a new contract that mitigates the two-tier system, rather than strengthens it, we are initiating a rebellion from below against an indefensible status quo, and making a necessary intervention in a union that has grown far too complacent in gradually managing its own demise. We are the movement that will rejuvenate worker power at CUNY, not by repressing the needs and the organizing efforts of a majority of the union, but by incorporating this powerful social force into a grassroots movement of CUNY workers and students for economic justice.

How many more labor scholars, or self-identified labor movement veterans, or social movement experts, and so forth, do we need to have in our union before the indefensibility of the two-tier system is widely recognized in practice, rather than just in a bunch of righteous words? How much longer will we allow the two-tier management tactic to persist unchallenged at CUNY, weakening our ability to fight with every passing contract, while it devastates the lives of our most exploited colleagues? When are we going to take a stand and VOTE NO ON THE TWO-TIER SYSTEM? Now? Or next time?

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We Are Not Impressed

We reprint below a letter to the editor by College of Staten Island adjunct Ruth Wangerin that appeared in the latest issue of The Chief, a newspaper that covers issues of concern to New York State civil servants. Ruth penned this letter in response to a remarkably uncritical article on the proposed contract that appeared in The Chief. If the reporter had done more research, he would not have been reduced to parroting and amplifying the quite partial perspective of PSC leadership—who, after all, can be expected to try and put the best face on the profoundly weak result of their efforts, however sincere and tenacious.

—Editors


PSC Pact Comes Up Short

We are not impressed … with the PSC contract with CUNY.

While the leadership of the Professional Staff Congress issues brave, optimistic pronouncement about the contract settlement with CUNY, many of the members are stunned by how little we have gained.

This contract increases inequality among CUNY faculty. The majority of faculty (called “adjunct”) teach part-time, for low wages and unequal benefits, and have no job security.

With this contract, the lowest-paid will earn about $3,200 per course—under $30,000 annually for teaching four courses per semester. Although the union had pledged to “move towards pay parity for adjuncts,” the across-the-board percentage increase widens the gap between adjuncts and other faculty.

The contract also allows CUNY to hire more Professors at off-the-scale high wages.

Over many years, adjunct and graduate-student faculty have advocated for better conditions through CUNY Struggle, CUNY Adjuncts and Graduate Student Employees for a Fair Contract, and the Adjunct Project, etc. We have patiently presented our case to leaders of both the union and CUNY.

Adjunct and graduate student faculty have proven we are not selfish, but many of us find that this contract has almost nothing in it for us. Even the much-ballyhooed multi-year contracts will not be available to thousands of adjuncts who cannot meet the stringent (and picky) longevity requirements.

Our union portrays itself as progressive and supportive of social justice, and it is—except when it comes to the majority of its own members.

—Ruth Wangerin

Executive Council Member: Why I Voted “No” on the Proposed Contract

Reports are trickling in from the PSC’s June 23rd Delegate Assembly, at which the delegates voted to recommend that the membership accept the proposed contract negotiated with CUNY management earlier this month. Glenn Kissack is one of three members of the union’s Executive Council to have voted against the agreement. We reprint below Kissack’s statement explaining why he voted against the proposed contract.

—Editors

Personal Statement About the Proposed Contract

by  Glenn Kissack

I am one of the three members of the Executive Council who voted against recommending the proposed memorandum of agreement. At the EC we were allowed ample time to present our doubts about the contract, and we in turn listened to the arguments in favor of acceptance.

Those who voted to accept are our comrades, people who care for the members and devoted considerable time and effort towards winning a decent contract. We’ve marched and rallied together, been arrested together, spent hours talking to members about strike authorization. No other union we know of has been as active as the PSC. The principal leaders have sacrificed their personal lives, put in 18-hour days and withstood mean-spirited threats from the Governor. Despite all the sacrifices and determination, the proposed agreement—while containing some gains—is an austerity contract, not the transformative one that members hoped for.

No movement towards salary equity for adjuncts

I have good friends who are adjuncts teaching 12 credits a semester at two campuses, working during the summer and still having trouble paying their bills. No union committed to social justice, as we are, should accept this. This agreement will widen the gap between full-time and adjunct professors. And that’s not just bad for the adjuncts—it’s bad for everyone because the expanding availability of ever-cheaper contingent labor (relative to full-timers) is the foundation of the austerity regime of the cost-cutters. Under this regime, departments must pare budgets and have fewer full-time positions for new faculty, while conditions worsen for the full-timers who remain.

Salary increases that don’t keep up with inflation

You’ll hear different numbers mentioned, but the last time we had a contractual salary increase was October 20, 2009. What has inflation done to those salaries? The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an inflation calculator here. If you put in $100 for 2009, the price in 2016 is $111.98. So prices increased nearly 12% over those seven years. Yet the agreement provides for only an 8.5% increase to date. So our salaries will not have kept pace with inflation. There’s another 1.5% in 2017, but inflation nationally is now more than 2% and climbing.

Moreover, there are respected economists who argue that the rate of inflation in NYC has been higher than elsewhere. According to The Economist, “the cost of living in New York has risen by about 23% over the past five years.”

Finally, there’s the 4% that other state unions received in 2010 and which the PSC rightfully demanded. For an assistant professor making $81,000 that 4% raise would have provided almost $20,000 in retroactive pay. Instead, we’ll receive zero percent for 2011.

Promises under austerity

Certain key parts of the agreement are mere promises, without any contractual mechanism for guaranteeing they happen. They include the labor-management committee to “develop a plan and identify resources” to reduce the annual teaching workload by 3 hours, as well as the possibility of $2500 salary increases for HEOs stuck at the top salary step for their title and who take on “increased responsibility.”

Our salaries are scheduled to be 8.5% higher in September. However, the senior colleges received only a 0.9% budget increase for this coming year. Given the resulting strain on budgets, what’s the likelihood of CUNY granting many HEOs the $2500 increases they deserve? And what’s the likelihood that CUNY will be able to implement a costly reduction in teaching workload? And isn’t there the danger that the lure of $2500 for more work will result in the speedup of HEOs?

Preparing for a Strike

The alternative to accepting the flawed offer from management is to prepare for a strike. As someone who was on strike with the UFT in 1975, I know that strikes aren’t easy. Success is not guaranteed, and what is guaranteed is that the Governor and the Mayor will ask the courts to levy heavy fines and eliminate automatic dues checkoff. The PSC would sustain a heavy hit.

But the cold reality is that there is no other way of staving off contracts that impose the same austerity pattern other unions accepted without striking. And the truth is that millions of public workers – teachers, welfare and sanitation workers, postal workers and others – defied laws forbidding them to strike in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and won major gains, despite the penalties they incurred. (Summer reading recommendation: Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today by Joe Burns.)

We had a 92% strike authorization vote. It is true that some of those yes voters do not want to strike. But that vote was a strong foundation to build for a strike. It’s clear that in the fall the CUNY Board of Trustees will ask the legislature for another round of tuition hikes, and this time the legislators will say yes. So this fall will be a time when students begin to organize campaigns against their being forced to pay for the lack of state investment in CUNY. This would have been a perfect opportunity for us to forge a strong alliance with students to challenge the Governor’s austerity regime. I think we’ll regret missing this opportunity.

The Future

Whatever is decided this evening, we’ll unite for the battles ahead. Two thing we should consider:

  1. Initiating a labor campaign against the anti-strike provisions of the Taylor Law. Other industrialized countries—France, Italy, Canada, etc.—permit strikes of public workers. The International Labor Organization says that strikes of most public workers should be allowed. What if we only endorsed candidates who pledge to work to eliminate the Taylor Law penalties for striking?
  2. Beginning a “Fight for 7k a Course” campaign modeled on the national “Fight for 15” campaign – winning broad support for ending the outrage of “professors in poverty.”

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.

Continue reading “What is “The Student” ?”

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.”

Continue reading “An Overwhelming Yes on Strike Authorization—What Now?”