Why I Voted Against the Proposed Contract

by Lenny Dick

The following piece is by Lenny Dick, a member of the PSC Executive Council who voted against the proposed contract. Dick’s comments reflect the bewilderment many of us feel at the gap between the PSC leadership’s rhetoric and its actions. He also asks pointed questions about the leadership’s reliance on our unsteady and ineffective friends in the Democratic Party. We agree with Dick that a full and fair accounting of the leadership’s strategy is necessary if we are to understand how and why we were presented with this unsatisfactory outcome.

—Editors

This contract proposal is an austerity proposal. It is not in the interest of our members and the students of CUNY. If we ratify this deal we won’t move forward; we won’t hold our ground; we will move backwards.

In the May edition of the Clarion, President Bowen writes:

Now that PSC members have voted “yes”—by a total of 92 percent—to authorize the Executive Council to call a strike if it should become necessary, the union has sent an unequivocal message to CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken and to lawmakers in Albany that PSC members are determined to fight for what we need—and what our students need.

Bowen continues:

There is enough money in this rich state to support high-quality public college education. The issue is policy, not resources. Albany’s failure to fund our contract reflects a political decision not to invest in the students we teach.

I agree completely with Bowen’s statements in May! But I am totally opposed to this retrograde contract proposal we received on June 16! What happened between mid-May and mid-June? Continue reading “Why I Voted Against the Proposed Contract”

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A Rebuttal to the PSC Vote Yes Campaign

A Rebuttal to President Bowen’s July 11th email and the FAQs on the PSC website

by CUNY Adjuncts and Graduate-Student Employees for a Fair Contract

The vote on the proposed PSC-CUNY contract is underway and you should be receiving an email from the American Arbitration Association with instructions on how to vote.

We urge you to VOTE NO!  The proposed contract widens the inequity between adjuncts (along with graduate student-employees) and full-time faculty and reinforces the adjuncts’ second class status.  A contract that fails half the faculty, fails the entire membership.

FIVE reasons to Vote NO:

  • The 10.41 percent salary increase means the entire bargaining unit made NO real progress in seven years!  With a salary increase at or near the rate of inflation, your buying power is no more than it was in October 2009! (See more detail below.)
  • The contract widens inequity in pay and benefits.
  • There is no easing of the adjunct workload restrictions.
  • The contract fails to provide adjunct job security for the many.  The provision for multi-year appointments for adjuncts is poorly designed and deeply flawed.
  • The contract is unfair. It weakens the union and does not serve out students.

Continue reading “A Rebuttal to the PSC Vote Yes Campaign”

Why I’m Voting NO on the Contract

by Jeremy Sawyer

As a member of the Graduate Center PSC executive committee, and a GC delegate, I voted “no” on the contract at the meeting of the delegate assembly (DA), and will vote no again this round. I want to explain why, and how I think this relates to graduate employee, adjunct, and larger union struggles.

13654318_1576632272632005_8367530333020335047_nExamining the details of this proposed contract, it is apparent that most of the gains are highly contingent, while the losses are more permanent and set in stone. For instance, workload reduction for full-time staff relies on management’s goodwill in forming committees to “find resources” to accomplish this. HEO advancement for taking on added responsibilities or workload is not automatic, but is something that must be applied for, and is subject to the “fiscal and programmatic needs of the department and/or the college.” The much-touted job security gains of 2 or 3 year contracts for adjuncts will apply to a tiny percentage of adjuncts, and is ultimately merely a 5-year pilot program to which the PSC must agree to any modifications CUNY wants at the end of the 5-year period, or the program disappears. At the delegate assembly, several adjuncts explained that shuttling from campus to campus makes it difficult to accrue the needed hours and semesters in a single department to qualify for consideration for the appointment. One adjunct of 20 years pointed out that he would not qualify under this contract’s stringent rules. Continue reading “Why I’m Voting NO on the Contract”

Why I Am Voting “No!”

by Rita C. Tobin

Cross-posted from Adjunct Faculty Assembly.

One morning in September 1974, having just earned my M.A. in English and begun my long trek to a Ph.D., I borrowed my sister’s car and drove to Lehman College in the Bronx, where I had just been hired to teach freshman composition. It was my first teaching job: I was 24 years old and had no training as a teacher. Yet, with the support of my CUNY colleagues and a few good textbooks, I muddled through that first semester. I was paid $1,500 for my efforts, the standard salary for a first-year CUNY adjunct.

Forty-two years later, I am a seasoned teacher. I’m also a practicing attorney. I taught for many years while a graduate student at Columbia University, where I earned both my Ph.D. and J.D. I also taught at the New School and, for a year, as an adjunct lecturer at Barnard College. For the past 10 years, while practicing law, I’ve been an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College. Now at the high end of the pay scale for that position, I earn the grand sum of $3,928.05 per course—a bit more than half (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards inflation calculator, 53.7%), in real dollars, of what I earned in 1974 as a first-year adjunct.

Today’s first-year adjuncts earn about 40%, in real dollars, of what I earned in 1974. The new contract, which raises salaries for both part-timers and full-timers by a bit more than 10%, will not begin to bridge that gap. In plain English—my subject—it ain’t enough.  Every other public sector union has won raises for their workers over the years that have at the very least kept up with inflation. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) has failed to do that. Time after time, our union leaders have accepted bad deals.

Full-timers have suffered; but adjuncts have been the worst affected. Moreover, the presently proposed across-the-board 10% merely widens the gap between full-time and adjunct faculty, while failing to provide adjuncts with a living wage. This means that the instructors who teach more than 60% of CUNY courses, particularly introductory and remedial courses that require the most individual attention, are paid far less than full-time faculty—in many instances, not enough to pay their basic living expenses—and that this gap is merely widened by the present contract offer. We are seasoned professionals with advanced degrees, including Ph.D.’s, who are dedicated to our students and the NYC community. Yet once again, we are being short-changed.

While acknowledging that the salaries for adjuncts remain unacceptably low, the PSC nevertheless touts the promise of 3-year contracts for some adjuncts. That promise, however, is illusory. To obtain a 3-year contract, an adjunct must have taught at least two courses in the same department, at a single CUNY school, in each of the previous 10 semesters. As all of us know only too well, however, courses are often canceled, sometimes only weeks before the first day of classes. That is because enrollment is not predictable, and full-timers take priority when classes do not fill. Adjuncts who signed contracts to teach two courses can lose one or both of those courses, often when it is too late to find another section to teach.

For this reason, few adjuncts can meet the criteria for a 3-year contract. For example, although I’ve been an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter for over 10 years, about three years ago one of my courses was canceled. Therefore, I am not eligible for a three-year contract. Indeed, few adjuncts, even those teachers who have been hired year after year for decades, will qualify. Moreover, CUNY has the right to review the contract provision in 2020, thus making the promise of job security even more illusory. The three-year contract is tempting, tasty bait; yet few will qualify and that bait may soon disappear.

In addition, the new contract continues to limit the number of credits that adjuncts may teach across CUNY in each semester. Combined with the paltry raise, this means that thousands of CUNY teachers will continue to earn poverty-level incomes. The PSC claims that this is the best that can be achieved. Really? Are they kidding?

Many adjuncts and full-timers believe that this contract is half-a-loaf, better than none.  I disagree. This deal is not even half-a-loaf. It’s not even a slice of bread. It is bait: a crumb attached to a hook. That hook is continued exploitation, insecurity and poverty. The PSC leadership promised to fight for us adjuncts, yet all that it has delivered is a salary that remains about half of what I was earning on that morning, 42 years ago, when I navigated my way up to Lehman in a borrowed car. All CUNY has given us in the way of job security is a raise that brings us nowhere near the cost-of-living; and a 3-year contract for which I, an experienced professional, as well as most of my colleagues, will not qualify. Even worse, such contracts may “go away” in 2020.

I am voting “no” because it’s time to tell the PSC, CUNY and Governor Cuomo that it is not okay to finance hundred million dollar developments in Buffalo while CUNY teachers scrounge the money for a metro card. Could the Governor live on 40% of Malcolm Smith’s (then the New York State governor) 1974 salary? Do the members of the UFT and other public sector unions have no job security? Does Barbara Bowen think that we adjuncts will take the bait, shut up, and “wait till next year”—again, and again, and yet again?

This time I around, I won’t take the bait and wait. I’m voting “no.”

Rita C. Tobin is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Hunter College (2005-present) and a practicing attorney.

The Breakdown: 6 Reasons Why You Should Vote NO on the PSC Contract Proposal

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This July, the membership of the PSC will be voting on a proposed contract, known as the memorandum of agreement (MOA). The membership has the power to decide whether it will accept the offer. We urge a NO vote for the following reasons.

1. Most fundamentally: the MOA is not a pay raise in real terms.

The proposed contract doesn’t keep up with inflation or the cost of living in New York. It would grant an increase of 10.4% for a period during which inflation has increased by at least 12% nationwide (and The Economist reports that the cost of living in New York has increased by 23% in the past 5 years!). This is effectively a pay cut and on its own makes this a very bad contract indeed. In short, while salaries will increase in nominal terms, they will fall in real terms because of inflation.

2. The proposed contract does nothing to address the inequity of the two-tier system.

An across the board percentage raise such as has been proposed in the MOA widens the gap between full-timers and adjuncts, who are more than half of CUNY faculty and who earn poverty wages. Adjuncts will now make approximately $3,300 per course, a far cry from the $5,000-$7,500 per course that has been repeatedly demanded by adjuncts as part of a fair contract. That the PSC has chosen to allocate the funds in such a blatantly inegalitarian way should be unacceptable to all members, even those who it benefits. To add insult to injury, even the signing bonuses will be larger for full timers than for adjuncts. So much for the PSC being committed to “moving toward adjunct salary parity.” Read more here about the nefarious effects of the two-tier system and how a NO vote is a vote to abolish it.

3. The new multi-year appointments for adjuncts don’t take into account seniority.

Time and again, adjuncts have sought job security through the creation of long-term appointments based on seniority. The proposed policy would rely on recent and continuous employment, which disqualifies many long-time adjuncts, for example if they have taken a semester off in the past few years. Voting no on this proposal will send the PSC leadership back to the drafting table and force them to reckon with actual adjunct demands for job security.

4. Graduate students may not receive retroactive pay or salary increases.

In the past, the CUNY Graduate Center has withheld contractual step increases to graduate assistants by cutting their fellowship stipends as wages rose. The GC PSC chapter has acknowledged that there is no language in the contract that rules this practice out.

5. HEO gains are not secure either.

HEOs are being offered the prospect of $2500 raises but these will be adjudicated by supervisors operating under austerity budgets. In other words, it may well turn out that there is “no money” for these raises because they are discretionary, not automatic. Thus, one of biggest draws of this contract for HEOs is in fact merely the promise of a raise rather than a contractually obligated pay increase.

6. The harmful 9-6 rule is present in the proposed contract.

Adjuncts have long demanded the relaxation of the so-called 9-6 rule, which prevents part-time faculty from working more than 9 credit-hours at one campus and 6 credit-hours at another campus per semester. This makes it impossible for adjuncts to work full-time without commuting to at least two locations (and makes it logistically difficult to be assigned courses every semester). Management would gladly repeal this rule, but it is the PSC that has repeatedly upheld it  — including in this proposed contract — arguing it protects against the “adjunctification” of faculty. But the reality is that faculty is already composed majoritarily of adjuncts. The responsibility of the PSC should be to protect adjuncts from falling further into poverty. Relaxing the 9-6 would drastically increase adjuncts’ quality of life and its absence from the current proposed contract is another way the leadership has betrayed adjunct demands to “protect” full-timers.

Bonus 7. The case for ratifying a bad contract doesn’t make any sense.

No one is satisfied with the contract proposal, everyone agrees it is below what would constitute a fair contract. Yet the PSC leadership and others in the CUNY community have nevertheless urged members to ratify. Their arguments basically come down to “this is the best we could do this time” and “we’ll get them next time.” But this argument is tautological. It is only if we ratify the contract that it becomes the best we could do. If we vote NO, we force our union leadership, CUNY management and the folks in Albany to come back to the bargaining table with the knowledge that the rank-and-file of the PSC will not accept an insulting contract. “Getting them next time” is the line the leadership has fed members for over a decade and has not been successful in securing a fair contract, as evidenced by this weak MOA. It is up to members to push by on this flawed logic. Why get them next time when we can get them this time, by voting NO on the contract proposal.

 

The Adjunct Project has published an excellent rundown of 7 reasons why you should vote NO. And read more analysis here about the pathological inequities of the two-tier system that the proposed contract would perpetuate and intensify, and about how we owe it to ourselves and to each other to push back against decades of austerity by voting NO. We also encourage members to be skeptical of the many op-eds that have been published in mainstream publications, and which uncritically hail the new contract. For a critique of such reporting, read Ruth Wangerin’s response to the contract coverage in The Chief.

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?

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