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Labor board to review CUNY contract talks

Photo by Brandon Jordan Contract talks between the Professional Staff Congress and CUNY are at an impasse or stalemate. A mediator from New York's Public Employment Relations Board will come up with a possible contract. Above are some PSC members at the 2015 Labor Day Parade in Manhattan.
Photo by Brandon Jordan
Contract talks between the Professional Staff Congress and CUNY are at an impasse or stalemate. A mediator from New York’s Public Employment Relations Board will come up with a possible contract. Above are some PSC members at the 2015 Labor Day Parade in Manhattan.

CUNY submitted a petition to the state’s Public Employment Relations Board calling for a mediator after it could not reach a contract with the Professional Staff Congress.

The PSC, the union representing more than 25,000 staff and professors, are in their sixth year of negotiations with administration for a new contract. The last contract expired Oct. 19, 2010. Since then, there were 27 meetings between CUNY and the PSC.

Rita Rodin, a spokesperson for CUNY, said the PSC rejected the first offer made on Nov. 4. The union rejected it because of the low salary increase.

“CUNY is offering a six-year contract with raises totaling six percent and other non-economic benefits,” she said.

CUNY’s petition highlighted its concerns with the PSC’s call for a strike authorization vote. Union members are considering voting to declare the right to strike, which is illegal in New York State under the Taylor Law passed in 1967.

The PERB is an independent board to enforce the Taylor Law. One part of the law includes impasse, or mediation, procedures for labor negotiations.

The board assigns someone to act as a mediator. This person creates an agreement for both sides to accept.

Anthony Zumbolo, executive director of the PERB, explained the mediator’s time on a case is impossible to know. Moreover, the mediator’s role in a usual case is never the same.

“There is no one formula or procedure with how a mediator will handle a dispute,” Zumbolo said.

If the agreement is rejected by one or both parties, then a fact finder will review the case and provide a voluntary agreement.

CUNY and the PSC both agree on certain issues, like a new contract and a percentage wage increase.

But CUNY’s demands—fewer than the PSC’s—include increasing the cap of distinguished professors, and allowing the Chancellor to increase salary-above-base limit for employees he chooses. The PSC requests better job security and salary increases for adjuncts as well as reducing the workload for faculty.

Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, told members the impasse does not affect the strike authorization vote.

“The union will negotiate with every drop of energy we have, and we will do everything we can to achieve a fair contract without a strike, but we cannot and will not apologize for organizing our membership to stand up for what we deserve,” Bowen said.

The contract talks have drawn not only local attention, but also national. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wrote a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for a resolution to the contract dispute. The Democratic presidential candidate blamed Gov. Cuomo’s refusal to invest in CUNY as a reason for the lack of an agreement.

“The contract with CUNY cannot be resolved without public funding from New York State. It is unrealistic to expect the University, already severely underfunded, to carve into its existing budget to cover the cost of even modest raises for 25,000 faculty and professional staff,” Sanders wrote.

CUNY Chancellor James Milliken said a contract with the PSC is still “the University’s highest priority.”

“CUNY is a great institution because of the thousands of talented faculty and staff who serve our students, city and state so well,” he said. “We hope this step will help us reach a settlement.”

Brandon Jordan

Brandon is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Business And Liberal Arts. He covers labor and activism at CUNY. He also likes to cook, bake, run and make puns, sometimes not in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R and email him at brandon[at]theknightnews.com.

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