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part-timers win 15-week pay


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By John Tarleton and Peter Hogness

Reprinted from the Summer ’09 Clarion

For decades, adjuncts at five CUNY colleges have received a smaller paycheck for their work in the final week of the semester. On July 16 the University agreed to end this practice, after a creative, grassroots campaign by union members that began in 2007.

As of Fall 2009, teaching adjuncts at Baruch, College of Staten Island, and Bronx, Kingsborough and Queensborough Community Colleges (and full-time faculty teaching overloads) will be paid the same amount for the last week of the semester as they are for all other weeks.

SINCE 1973

“We were innovative, we were persistent,” said PSC Senior College Officer Diane Menna, a longtime adjunct at Queens College and lead organizer of the campaign for change. “We made it more trouble than it was worth for them to maintain this policy.” since 1973

At most CUNY campuses, adjuncts have been consistently paid 45 hours per semester for a three-credit course (three hours per week for 15 weeks). The inequity at the five campuses began in 1973, when they started paying adjuncts for only 14 weeks of teaching per semester plus pay for proctoring an exam (usually 2 hours) – or nothing at all for the final week if the adjunct didn’t proctor an exam. As a result, most adjuncts on these campuses were paid for only 44 hours per semester. (Kingsborough, under faculty pressure, later increased this to 44.4.) Of course, adjuncts who taught a four- or five-hour class were shortchanged even more.

Part-time faculty who taught six or more hours per week at the same campus lost not only full pay for the 15th week, but also that week’s paid hour of professional time. Full-time faculty teaching an extra course on an overload basis got smaller checks as well. working more


“This was an ugly issue,” said David Hatchett, a lecturer in English at Medgar Evers who had worked as an adjunct for two decades. “It wasn’t just the money – it was about the fact that you are already paying us so little, and then you want to cheat us out of a little more! It was almost unfathomable.” The practice was especially insulting, Hatchett said, because the combination of exams, term papers and grading means that the final week is often the busiest time of the entire semester: “To be paid less when you’re working more – that’s just not right.”

The union filed a grievance on the issue in 2005, but received a split decision in arbitration the following year. Citing past practice, the arbitrator found that the five campuses that paid less could continue to do so, a ruling that preserved the practice of full pay at the other 12 CUNY colleges.

Adjunct activists refused to give up. “When you can’t get a fair decision in a grievance,” said Menna, “you can do it through organizing. It’s not easy, and you have to stick with it. But if you engage wholeheartedly and persistently in a just cause, you can create the pressure that’s needed to win.”

In discussing what to do next, part-time faculty kept coming back to the obvious unfairness of the policy. “No matter how long this had been going on, we felt it was unacceptable,” said Menna. “It completely disregarded how hard we work when the semester is coming to an end. It was just outrageous!”

With the full support and backing of the union’s leadership, they decided to organize a campaign for change – and dubbed it the “Campaign of Outrage.”

The campaign was launched in April 2007 as union activists gathered petition signatures from across the CUNY system. During finals week the following month, pickets were held on each of the five campuses, and petitions were presented to several college presidents.

Next came a series of smaller, out-of-the box actions, as organizers looked for creative ways to make the issue hard to ignore. That summer, protesters showed up at “open house” functions at Bronx, Queensborough and Kingsborough Community Colleges, passing out flyers and speaking with prospective students about the 15th week issue. The actions contrasted the five colleges’ labor practices with the theme of excellence featured in CUNY’s subway and newspaper ads.

When holiday season came, the campaign moved into guerrilla theater. Shortly before Thanksgiving, an activist dressed in a turkey suit attempted to present a stuffed turkey to the presidents of Baruch and BCC, both of whom had previously refused to accept the PSC’s petitions. Volunteers distributed flyers headlined, “CUNY, don’t be a turkey!”

“It’s appalling to see Baruch refuse to give adjuncts even the few dollars they deserve for finals week,” the chairperson of the college’s sociology department, Glenn Petersen, told the student paper The Ticker.

During finals week that December, the campaign returned to all five campuses. This time protesters suited up as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” while leafleting students and faculty and passing out day-glo stickers that read “Outrage!”

“We showed college presidents that we were not going away,” said Menna. “As long as they continued to cheat us, we would continue to show up and speak out.”

“Full-time faculty and students were shocked at how far CUNY would go to pinch pennies at the expense of adjunct faculty,” recalled Carl Lindskoog, a QCC teaching fellow who participated in several of the events. “It did get the issue on people’s radar screens,” agreed former QCC Chapter Chair Jay Appleman.

At College of Staten Island, PSC Chapter Chair Vasilios Petratos raised the issue with the college’s new president, Tomás Morales, and urged him to do the right thing. “Adjuncts teach upward of 50% of our students, and we should recognize them for their work,” Petratos told Clarion in 2008. “What we demand is fair compensation, full remuneration for our members’ excellent work…and this will help make the college a better place.”


At QCC, Phil Pecorino, chair of the Curriculum Committee of the QCC Academic Senate, put the issue on the committee’s agenda in September 2008. By shortchanging adjuncts for an hour each semester, Pecorino said, the five schools had been putting themselves at variance with State rules that require 45 hours of contact time for a three hour course. Working through college governance, with support from QCC’s administration, the committee pressed for a change in the college’s academic calendar so that adjuncts would have to receive full pay in the final week. “We did have the State Education Department regulations on our side,” Pecorino told Clarion.


Meanwhile at Baruch, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling on CUNY to pay adjuncts for a full 15th week on all CUNY campuses. “The faculty actually works more in the exam week than during the average week in the semester,” said Stan Wine, a Baruch adjunct in computer information systems who co-authored the resolution. Wine told Clarion that the Baruch resolution, which also referred to State regulations, “caught the eye” of administrators at 80th Street.
Bill Ferns, an associate professor in the same department, worked with Wine to secure passage of the resolution. Baruch’s policy represented a “grave injustice,” said Ferns, who is currently secretary of the college’s Faculty Senate. “If we let the people who are most vulnerable get mistreated, then they will eventually get to us,” said Ferns. “I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”

Ferns said that he did not agree with all of the Campaign of Outrage’s tactics, but the bottom line was that the protesters were right. “It was just wrong not to pay someone that lousy, stinkin’ extra $55,” he told Clarion. For the Spring of 2007, Ferns calculated that Baruch would have owed 257 adjuncts a combined $40,057, for a total of 618 hours. In the scheme of CUNY’s budget, he said, the cost of doing the right thing was not large.

The cost of doing the wrong thing, on the other hand, was growing. “As it became more and more public, it got harder to hold onto,” said Ferns. “No matter what you say about ‘past practice,’ it looked terrible, what they were doing to the adjuncts.”

By this summer, CUNY proved ready to address the issue. Discussions with the union on a number of payroll-related issues led to the July 16 agreement. “In the end, it was impossible for the five college presidents to ignore the unfairness of their practice,” said Executive Director Deborah Bell. “Part-timers’ Campaign of Outrage and the solidarity of full-time and part-time faculty at the campuses put pressure on CUNY to solve the problem.”

“We used many different tactics, and we may never know exactly what was the final factor,” Menna told Clarion. “But one thing we know for sure: if we had just accepted this quietly, it never would have changed.”

Click here for coverage in text and photos of the 2007 Campaign of Outrage.

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