PSC DEMANDS PROGRESS IN CONTRACT TALKS
By Clarion Staff

 

CLARION

MAY 2001

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Seven hundred people joined a PSC rally outside the April 23 meeting of City University’s Board of Trustees to demand progress towards a new union contract. The protest was the largest demonstration by CUNY faculty and staff in years.

PSC members arrived by subway, car, bicycle and chartered bus, swelling the street in front of 535 East 80th Street.  “I’m here because it’s time to get on the front lines,” said Henry Skinner, professor of health and physical education and a contract liaison at Bronx Community College. “It’s important for our support to be visible, to let the Trustees know we’re here.”

The protest certainly reached the CUNY Board of Trustees. Just before the rally, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein sent a memo to Board members noting that the PSC was organizing a rally outside their meeting, and calling for the Trustees to go into executive session to discuss the negotiations. A press statement from Goldstein and Chairman Herman Badillo struck a new tone, stating that the Board has undertaken “careful review of all proposals...with appropriate respect to the priorities of the new union leadership,” and declaring that the Trustees were “eager” to reach an agreement.

Just before the Board began its meeting, Clarion asked Badillo whether this meant that CUNY would soon make an economic offer. “I would imagine so,” he said, “because it’s already April.” But Badillo hedged, saying that this also “depends on what happens with the city budget.” No such offer was forthcoming at the next negotiating session four days later, but the PSC’s negotiating team reports that CUNY management has shown more willingness to bargain seriously since the April 23 rally. “There is still no financial offer on the table, but the rally clearly produced some movement,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen.

The Trustees’ April 23 meeting was an executive session, closed to the public—but the sounds of protest made their way inside: “Smaller classes, better pay! Give us a contract right away!” Chants echoed off the walls of neighboring buildings—along with music, steel whistles, laughter and applause. 

To dramatize how low salaries and excessive workload have hurt CUNY’s ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff, protesters carried giant puppets of “the Lost Professors.“ With academic gowns fluttering beneath their ghostly faces, the puppets wore placards describing promising individuals that CUNY has lost to other institutions—and why.

LOST PROFESSOR: CITY COLLEGE, ENGINEERING, read one, with this explanation: CUNY: $64,000, 5 COURSES / NJ INST. OF TECH.: $110,000, 4 COURSES. Here’s why a professor of modern languages was lost from Brooklyn College: CUNY: $39,000, 7 COURSES / IOWA STATE: $45,000, 4 COURSES. Not all of the puppets were faculty: LOST STAFF: CUNY PROGRAM DIRECTOR, read another sign. CUNY: $63,000 / Dept. of Health $80,000.

“We not only want a contract, we want a visionary contract,” PSC First Vice President Steve London told the crowd. “No more will we sit and listen to our newest colleagues worry about paying rent and caring for their children!...No more will higher education officers work without hope of promotion and advancement!...No more will adjuncts be treated as second-class!”

For all the Trustees’ rhetoric about “excellence,” many at the rally observed, they have shown little inclination to pay for it. James Saslow, professor of art at Queens College, said, “What angers me is how the mayor and the Board of Trustees deny us what we need to function, and then blame us for the results. We’re being systematically starved to death, and then they tell us that we’re too thin!”

Bowen told the press that, “We keep hearing from the University about the opportunity to ‘Study with the Best’—but we don’t see any action to create the conditions that the best faculty and staff demand.” The CUNY ad campaign to which Bowen referred was a target of many picket signs, especially on adjunct demands: STUDY WITH THE BEST, read one—BUT DON’T EXPECT THEM TO HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE.

“Time To Get Serious”

“Keep the pressure on! Keep the pressure on!” the crowd chanted, as Zach Ramsey of DC 37, the 100,000-member city workers’ union, told them what the Trustees had to do: “It’s time for this Board to stop the stall tactics!” said Ramsey. “It’s time for them to get serious!”


PSC adjunct organizer Kristin Lawler on stage at the 4/23 rally

Many speakers were angry that after nine months of negotiations, CUNY management has yet to make an offer on economic issues. “CUNY really hasn’t come to the table with anything, which is incredibly insulting to the professors and students,” Councilwoman Christine Quinn told WABC-TV that morning. “There is an intransigence coming from the Board of Trustees that has to be overcome,” said Antonio Nadal, a lecturer in Puerto Rican and Latino Studies who came with a couple of dozen others from Brooklyn College. “The situation is critical.”

“We’ve had dwindling resources for years now,” said Orsini Gonzalez, an assistant professor of ESL at City College. “It affects our ability to do research. It affects everything, from the libraries to toilet paper.” Among the top priorities, Gonzalez said, are “bringing back more full-time lines, and for part-timers making it worth their while to keep working here.”

Barbara Stanley, a counselor in the SEEK program at Hunter College, said that CUNY routinely mistreats its counselors. “There is no ceiling on our case loads,” she said, and there has been a “creeping expansion” of the work year for counselors. This makes research—and therefore promotions—more difficult. “Most counselors are women and people of color,” Stanley pointed out, “and this is part of a history of how we have been treated.”

“For many tenured faculty, workload is especially important,” said Jonathan Buchsbaum, PSC Chapter Chair at Queens College. “When we have to tell someone that we can only give them $400 a year for travel to conferences, versus $2000 at North Texas—where they have a 3-2 course load—that has a real impact.”

Adjunct Concerns

Susanna Jones, a student at the Graduate Center and a CUNY adjunct for four years, cited “pay parity, pay for office hours, and all the questions affecting adjuncts” as issues that had brought her to the rally. “I couldn’t imagine not coming,” she said.

New York union leaders who spoke at the rally included Ted Jacobsen of the Central Labor Council and Ray Markey, president of Public Library Guild Local 1930, who got an especially warm reception in tribute to the significant wage increase that his union had won just days before (see p.8). “We need to end the culture of 25 years of givebacks,“ Markey declared. “To anyone who says, ‘It can’t be done’—I say, it can be done! We did it, and you’re going to do it, too.”

Bowen introduced UFT President Randi Weingarten as “someone who has been a strong ally of the PSC, who has supported us in the fight for adjunct health care.” Citing CUNY’s many accomplished graduates, Weingarten said, “It’s important that they had access to a great public education.” As Mayor Giuliani enters his final months in office, she said, he must decide: “Will he leave a legacy of opportunity, or continue the legacy of neglect?”

Noel Acevedo, newly-elected recording secretary of Transport Workers Local 100, told the crowd, “Many of our members got their education at City University, when it was the only place that would give them the opportunity.” When Acevedo attended CUNY, he paid no tuition and in fact got an extra stipend to pay for books. “Education is not a luxury—it is a right!” Acevedo said to loud applause.

Why have working and learning conditions at CUNY been under attack? “It’s not an accident that this has happened now,” Bowen told the rally, “when a majority of New Yorkers are people of color, when more and more are born outside the US.” City University has provided the opportunity for learning to millions in the past, Bowen said, “and the fight for CUNY is a fight to keep that door open.” Chaka Stevens, a student and prison reform activist at Brooklyn College, noted that “it costs more to put someone in prison than to send them to Harvard, but this country prefers incarceration to education.”

PSC members at the demonstration were pleased with the turnout. Skinner of BCC said, “It was good to have HEOs, CLTs and faculty all together on the bus. It gave you a real sense of being part of a team, a family—being a real union.”

At the April 26 Delegates’ Assembly, Executive Director Deborah Bell summed it up this way: “We have gotten on the Trustees’ radar screen. They know we are serious about our demands.” Bowen told the delegates, “The message is getting across that the PSC is not going to go away.” She added,   “In the public mind, we are bringing the PSC into the category of unions whose members deserve to recoup years of lost ground, such as teachers and police, after the years of defunding at CUNY.”

Bowen called the rally an important link in a chain of organizing, an assessment that seemed confirmed by a post a few days later on a PSC e-mail list. “So I’m walking through my neighborhood this sunny Sunday afternoon,” wrote Pat Rudden, an assistant professor of English at City Tech, explaining that she was wearing the stylish purple “PSC/CUNY Contract Now!” t-shirt that was handed out at the demonstration. “And not one but two people stop me before I get into the store to ask about the contract, what campus I’m on, how things are going, and how the rally was. I told them both that our rally had possibly made the Board go into executive session, and that things are looking up because we’re keeping the pressure on.”