Since late last year, thousands of professors and staff at CUNY needed to make a major decision that affects their jobs.
The decision? Saying yes to a strike authorization vote.
“The PSC has used every legal means at its disposal to achieve a fair contract, and we will do everything we can to reach a contract settlement without the need to strike. But six years without a raise, six years of erosion of competitiveness and conditions at CUNY, is intolerable—especially in one of the richest cities in the world,” Barbara Bowen, president of Professional Staff Congress, said.
Union members in the PSC, which represents more than 25,000 faculty and staff, will vote on authorizing the use of a strike. This is in response to six years of being unable to reach a contract agreement with CUNY.
Since 2010, professors and staff have been working without a contract. Both CUNY and the PSC held over 20 meetings, resulting in only one offer from CUNY. The PSC rejected it.
One major problem for professors and staff is the lack of pay raises. Others include workload, time for research and adjunct status.
Sheehan Moore is the Labor Relations Coordinator at the CUNY Adjunct Project. Moore explained the vote escalates tactics of the union, and rallies and protests can bolster support for it.
“A strong ‘yes’ vote means that the PSC’s team has the support of the membership if they decide to call a strike, which gives them significantly more leverage in negotiations,” Moore said. “But getting to the point where an authorization vote can even be called for means a lot of mobilization first, especially with a membership as large and spread out as the PSC’s [base].”
The CUNY Adjunct Project supports a strike authorization vote. Moore said the organization decided on this after internal and external discussion.
“Our conclusion is that a strike is the only way to ensure that we can win a decent contract. A strike also gives us the opportunity to mobilize as graduate workers and adjuncts in a way that foregrounds our needs and student needs broadly speaking,” Moore said.
David Gerwin, acting chair of the PSC at Queens College, stressed that members were not voting to strike.
“This is not a vote that we are striking. This is a vote that authorizes the union executive committee that we should go on strike,” Gerwin said.
But there are repercussions to a strike in New York State. There is the Taylor Law, passed in 1967, that forbids strikes. Failure to follow this law could result in daily fines for the union.
Gerwin explained the union does not want to strike, as it is open to negotiating with CUNY. Moreover, if CUNY received proper funding from the state and it led to a better proposal, then union leaders would negotiate a contract.
“We would like nothing better than settle tomorrow,” he said.
Gerwin elaborated the larger issue involved with the vote is recent cuts by the state. When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his Executive Budget earlier this year, he shifted $485 million from the state to the city. Gerwin said this was nearly one-third of funding for senior colleges. This, along with diminishing investment in CUNY, made it difficult to talk about issues like protesting or voting to authorize a strike.
“I think often that works to the advantage of the people who are choosing not to spend the money for CUNY. It’s been a long, long time and conditions have grown dire,” Gerwin said.
Talks are now at an impasse, or stalemate, at CUNY’s request. New York State’s Public Employment Relations Board assigned a mediator to resolve the contract dispute.
But this does not stop the strike authorization vote for members.
“Do we want to strike? No,” Gerwin said. “Do we feel like our backs are against the wall? Yes.”