The Professional Staff Congress held a mass meeting Nov. 19 at The Cooper Union about current contract negotiations and its plans for the next few months.
CUNY professors and staff are working without a contract since 2010. The PSC, which represents more than 25,000 members, is negotiating with CUNY to obtain one. Over the past 18 months, the union and management held 23 collective bargaining sessions with CUNY.
In recent months, however, the union increased pressure against CUNY by planning a strike authorization vote and demonstrating in front of the university’s central office on Nov. 4, where 53 members were arrested.
Michael Fabricant, first vice president of the PSC, explained the union responded with a counter-offer to CUNY in two weeks. He noted their offer took six months in contrast and did not keep up with inflation.
“Clearly, our sense of our urgency is not theirs,” Fabricant said.
Dexter Roberts, president of Medger Evans Student Association and University Student Senate delegate, said the USS would ally with the PSC in the ongoing contract talks.
“If there is no you and no me, then there is no CUNY,” Roberts said.
Andrea Vasquez, a staff member at the Graduate Center who was arrested Nov. 4, sarcastically referred to the administration’s media push of CUNY Month, which highlighted the benefits of CUNY for students.
“Have you all heard by now that November is CUNY Month? The Chancellor [James Milliken] says it over and over on NY1,” Vasquez said. “Well I know what I want for CUNY Month: a decent contract and a better university.”
James Davis, a professor at Brooklyn College and another arrested Nov. 4, said professors and staff across the country were following the union’s negotiations with CUNY.
“Our colleagues are watching the PSC closely,” Davis said.
The union then played videos of other teacher unions across the world, from Seattle to South Africa, showing solidarity for the PSC’s efforts. Special messages from individuals, like Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, were also included.
PSC President Barbara Bowen spoke about five different strategies the union would take: target New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over a new contract, rally more labor and student allies, amplify the union’s message to the public, submit a counter-offer with better benefits and immediately organize.
In fact, Bowen said the union, in contrast to CUNY’s six percent pay raise from 2010 to 2016, requested 14 percent.
Bowen criticized Milliken for appearing in the press when praising CUNY’s values, but not speaking about the lack of a contract.
“I’m tired of hearing Chancellor Milliken talk about CUNY as a value. It’s almost as if the only reason you would go to CUNY is because you could shop more cheaply. It’s making CUNY the Wal-Mart of education,” Bowen said.
Bowen also said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was also to blame as he refused to help. In fact, she said the Democratic governor would veto the Maintenance of Effort bill that keeps stable funding for CUNY.
“Governor Cuomo, you cannot present yourself as a progressive if you are not progressive on CUNY. You cannot be a progressive and pursue austerity economics on the higher education system of this city and the state. We will not let you do that,” Bowen said.
The following day, the union delivered over 35,000 signatures to Governor Cuomo asking for the bill to pass.
At the end, the union sent cards to members about one-on-one meetings about the strike authorization vote. The union did not say when it would happen, but it would first discuss any concerns at different colleges.
Glenn Dyer, an adjunct at Queens College, said he reviewed CUNY’s offer and said it did not keep up with cost of living in New York City.
“I thought it was kind of a joke,” Dyer said.
Dyer, however, said he wanted to see in a new contract better pay and more full-time spots for adjuncts.
“It’s important the structure [of CUNY] isn’t undermined,” Dyer said.