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December 3, 2007

PSC Members Testify at Higher Ed Commission Hearing This Wednesday

The state’s Higher Education Commission is holding a  public hearing this Wednesday, December 5, 2:30-5pm at the CUNY Graduate Center. A dozen PSC members and officers will testify. The commission, appointed by Governor Eliot Spitzer in May, is mandated to identify ways to improve the quality of higher education in New York State. Its preliminary report was originally due to be released December 1 and is now expected on December 17.   PSC members have signed up to testify about the effect on CUNY of decades of underfunding, and especially on  the importance of restoring competitive salaries at CUNY in order to allow the University to retain current faculty and recruit the next generation of top-notch faculty and staff —a key issue for the quality of education we can offer New Yorkers.

Movement by Both Sides at Bargaining Table  

At the bargaining session last Tuesday, both union and management negotiating teams offered proposals to move the negotiations forward.  In an attempt to reduce the number of issues separating the two sides and allow progress toward a settlement, both parties withdrew several demands previously on the table.  The PSC agreed to narrow down its list of proposals in order to concentrate on the priorities announced at the mass meeting and in Clarion for this phase of the multi-contract strategy.  CUNY continues to fail to provide a financial offer, however, making it impossible to reach a settlement.

In the absence of a financial offer, the PSC was unwilling to drop as many demands as management did.  The union bargaining team indicated our seriousness about addressing five essential areas in this contract: restoration of nationally competitive salaries; increased ability to recruit and retain faculty and staff by providing tuition waivers at CUNY for our children and paid family leave; stable health insurance on the New York City plan for eligible adjuncts; health insurance comparable to that offered by SUNY for CUNY graduate employees; and job protection for our most experienced adjuncts. The union modified several demands, including those on health and safety provisions, banked sick days and tuition waivers.  The PSC also withdrew some technical demands.  The most significant move the union made was to withdraw for this round of bargaining and defer for a future round our major demand on reducing the teaching load.  This decision follows the union’s announced strategy of concentrating on a few big-ticket economic improvements in each round of bargaining and being serious about winning them.  The PSC did, however, retain its demand to increase the amount of reassigned time for research available for mid-career and senior faculty.  The union also retained its demands on improving salaries, increasing the top salary step, providing equity for lower-paid titles, advancing HEO reclassification, providing family leave, adjunct job security and health insurance, as well as several other economic and non-economic items.

Management withdrew its demands on assigning teaching duties to HEOs, increasing the number of courses an individual adjunct can teach, changing the grievance procedure, reducing the amount of reassigned time available for union work, changing some notification dates in the contract, and making it more difficult to grieve items in our personnel files.  Management’s most significant move was to withdraw some of their union-busting demands to remove certain HEOs on the campuses from the bargaining unit—those who work in areas close to college management.   CUNY did not, however, withdraw any of its most sweeping demands to increase management control and restructure the University along corporate lines.  They left on the table their demands to take away salary steps from most full-time faculty and staff, to remove department chairs from the union and to slash the job security of HEOs. 

While it was painful for the union to withdraw even a single demand, the session made a significant advance toward being able to reach a settlement.  With a narrower range of demands on the table for both sides, talks can have more focus and clarity.  The union is actively demanding frequent bargaining sessions throughout December and continues to press Chancellor Goldstein’s representatives for a financial offer.  

Contract Campaign Heats Up

Meanwhile, union activists are taking their demand for improvements beyond the negotiating table. This week, graduate employees are organizing a creative educational protest at the Graduate Center to highlight their need for health insurance.  Working with the union, they have designated today through Friday “Band-Aid Week” at the Grad Center: faculty, staff and students are wearing Band-Aids and signing petitions to demand health insurance parity for grad students.  CUNY grad employees are almost alone in the country in not having employer-provided health insurance. Parental leave activists, riding the momentum of the NBC story on the lack of paid leave at CUNY and extensive organizing on the campuses, met yesterday to strategize next steps in keeping the pressure on management.

There are many ways you can participate in the union’s contract campaign, and your participation is essential if we are to win a good contract. You can sign up online for various activities. You can help the union collect retention data by letting us know about colleagues who have left CUNY because of salaries or workloads. And you can wear a blue union button to highlight one of the issues at stake in the negotiations; the buttons say “CUNY needs a raise,” “CUNY is contingent on us,” “Hands off salary steps,” “Hands off HEOs” and “Hands off Department Chairs.” Get yours today by talking to your chapter chair or contacting Nick Cruz at the union office.

You can also attend an upcoming bargaining session as an observer; contact Amanda DeJesus Magalhaes.

Visit the negotiation section of the website for all the latest news and updates on bargaining.

Defending Free Speech at LaGuardia

The PSC is considering several legal options against CUNY for violating the free speech and union rights of our members. Meanwhile, members of the LaGuardia  community are organizing and taking  political action against infringements on their rights. These actions come in response to LaGuardia President Mellow's pronouncement a month ago that  CUNY’s  computer use policy prohibits union business from being conducted using the university's computer resources, including email. The CUNY computer use policy does not ban union business and the announced ban is an abrupt reversal of past practice, which has for years allowed PSC members to post information about upcoming meetings, the status of negotiations or grievances, information about contracts and other essential communications critical to the union’s ability to function and fulfill its duty to its members. PSC members at LaGuardia have been up in arms over the clear free-speech violation of this new policy; according to the ban, it is permissible to conduct personal business, invite people to contribute to a private charity, or send messages critical of PSC policies and leadership using LaGuardia’s e-mail system, but not permissible  to inform members of when the next chapter meeting is. The PSC will announce shortly what legal steps it will take. 

Court Decisions Backs PSC Arbitration Win

The New York Supreme Court upheld an arbitrator’s decision and award in a case concerning appropriate monetary relief when a college has improperly terminated a person. The case involved a member who had been terminated while on approved medical leave. After determining that the termination was a violation of the contract, the arbitrator went on to award  “make whole relief,” including reinstatement to payroll, full retroactivity of pension and welfare benefits and reimbursement of medical costs. The relief included a prospective monetary award, which is the part of the arbitrator’s decision that CUNY appealed in court to overturn. The judge ruled that the prospective award was correct because it gave the member benefits that the member would have been entitled to had the termination not taken place.

“Campaign of Outrage” in the News

The Baruch College student newspaper, the Ticker, reported on the Thanksgiving Week “don’t be a turkey” outreach to Baruch President Kathleen Waldron in an article that explains the practice of Baruch and four other campuses of shortchanging adjuncts for their work during the 15th week, finals week, of the semester. For more information on the campaign of outrage, see the PSC website.

"The bargaining session last week was an important step in advancing toward a settlement.  CUNY had been pressing the union for more than a month to withdraw demands from the table, but we would not do that until we had discussed with our members a strategic set of goals for this contract. The most painful thing about the session was that CUNY management continues to focus on increasing its control and has still  not made any move to propose what we all know the University needs: competitive salaries and decent, competitive working conditions.  Until we see an offer from CUNY that includes enough money to restore our salaries and provide for other essential conditions of an academic workplace, all the talk about the ‘CUNY renaissance’ is just talk.” ~Barbara Bowen, President