June 18, 2001

Presented by Professor Barbara Bowen

President, Professional Staff Congress CUNY


Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Bowen; I am President of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY and of the PSC Welfare Fund. I appreciate this opportunity to testify on Calendar Item 6D. I want to call both for more information before the PSC can support the proposal and for an equivalent benefit for the employees I represent.

The PSC has no objection in principle to extending attractive retirement benefits to members of the Executive Compensation Plan. We agree that CUNY deserves top-level administrators, people who have academic credentials worthy of a major research university and who will assist in the rebuilding of CUNY. We acknowledge that these positions would be made more attractive by the presence of a stronger retirement benefit. We argue, however, that the most important factor in recruiting high-quality management is the university’s ability to recruit high-quality faculty and staff—together with the freedom to make academic policy without narrow political constraints. Thus the PSC is open to supporting this item, which makes Executive Compensation employees eligible for retirement health benefits after 10 years of service and upon reaching 55 years of age.

But those employees participate in our Welfare Fund. The Welfare Fund, which is already staggering under the weight of prescription drug costs that rise 18% a year, will presumably be expected to bear the additional cost of providing more employees with benefits. Where is the costing-out of those benefits? Has the Board of Trustees been supplied with the projected costs of this move to our Welfare Fund? We have not been contacted about how the University expects to cover the additional cost of this new benefit, should it be enacted. I call on you, members of the Board of Trustees, to refuse to pass on this provision until you have seen a detailed account of its cost and of how its costs will be covered. The PSC cannot support this item until we are certain that it will not drain the resources of our Welfare Fund.

We have further questions: How will members of the instructional staff who move into the Executive Compensation Plan be treated in terms of retirement benefits? What will happen if a participant in the Executive Compensation Plan returns to the instructional staff? Some of our members, for instance, serve as associate deans for several years and then decide to return to the professoriate.

That these questions have not been addressed suggests some of the problems with this proposal, but there is also a much deeper issue at stake. If the current retirement provisions for management are an obstacle to recruiting and retaining the best administrators, then why are they not an obstacle to recruiting and retaining the best instructional staff? The justifications offered for this proposal apply at least equally to the 17,000 people I represent. CUNY should also be trying to recruit instructional staff with "proven track records and distinguished careers." The faculty and staff are equally "disadvantaged by having to serve 15 years and reach age 62 before they are eligible to retire with health benefits." Where is the proposal to extend an equivalent benefit to the core of this university, the element most in crisis after 20 years of disinvestment: the faculty and staff.

The PSC will support this proposal only when the Board provides adequate information on its costs and when it agrees to an equivalent benefit for the members of our bargaining unit. Our contract proposals #138 and #139 address exactly this issue. In fact, we propose a more modest advance than the one being proposed here. I call on you right now to agree to provide the same benefit proposed today for management to the employees covered by the PSC. Only then could we responsibly support the item you are considering today. The PSC calls on University management to make the commitment today and to lobby the same New York State Finance Committee, New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, New York State Division of Budget, and Governor’s Office of Employee Relations who support this change to extend the same benefit to the faculty and professional staff of CUNY.

If the benefit is a powerful tool in recruiting and retaining management employees, it will be even more powerful in recruiting and retaining members of the instructional staff. You cannot, without totally losing credibility, argue differently.

This is not the first time this year that the Board has been asked to support enhancements to the benefits of Executive Compensation Plan employees. The position of the PSC has been not to oppose those enhancements, even though it is difficult for us to swallow such items as additional presidential housing allowances when some of our members cannot afford even rent-controlled apartments. Remember, the majority of our courses are taught by adjuncts, many of whom live on less than $20,000 a year. But this proposal is different: it offers the opportunity for an exact equivalent benefit for our members. The PSC calls on you to agree right now, at next week’s meeting, to extend the same benefit to us. I remind you that management has yet to offer a single penny of salary or benefit increases to our members after 8 months of contract negotiations. Isn’t it a little unseemly to vote in yet another benefit for management when nothing, not one dollar, has been offered to us?

I ask you to reconsider this proposal before granting it approval: first, it is incumbent upon you to provide a responsible accounting of its costs, many of which may be borne by the faculty and staff through the Welfare Fund; and second, the proposal must be accompanied by an equivalent proposal for the instructional staff. To do anything less is not only shoddy accounting; it is a direct signal to the thousands of people who give their lives to this institution—not just a few years in high-paying jobs—that the Board has contempt for their contributions to CUNY. Above all, it is a signal that the Board continues to refuse the investment in the faculty and staff that is the key to making this a great university for the people of New York.

(NOTE: The BOT passed the Executive Compensation Plan Amendment at its last monthly meeting of the academic year on Monday, June 25.  Since the compensation plan will drain funds from the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund, the union is planning further action to halt implementation of the Executive Compensation Plan Amendment.)