Members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the faculty-staff union at the City University of New York, protested in front of CUNY’s offices on February 15 demanding that administrators reverse its decision to withhold $1,000 equity pay increases to office workers who are mostly women and people of color. They’re called “equity” raises because the union negotiated the raises to ensure that lower-paid members of the union see an increase in their pay.
A total of 1,295 office workers who work in the Assistant to the HEO (Higher Education Officer) were expected to see the equity raise on Thursday, February 11 but, without any warning, the university called the PSC’s President, Barbara Bowen, on Wednesday, February 10, to say that the raises wouldn’t take effect. In addition to HEO employees, 1,300 lecturers were also notified that the equity increases promised to them on April 1 will also not be paid on time.
When asked what might be the purpose for the CUNY administration’s sudden decision to withhold this pay raise, PSC’s director of communications, Francis Walter Clark, replied “We’ve heard them use the financial situation at CUNY and the fact that it would be difficult to program the raise.” but he added how this explanation is illogical because “One, they have a signed contract that they must honor and two, CUNY has hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent federal stimulus money and these equity raises would be a tiny percentage of it.”
Bowen explained that the union has historically carved out from its agreed-to across-the-board increases the “equity” raise, which amounts to about $1.2 million, to address racial and gender inequity. “This is contractual money; this is money that we bargained for. If we hadn’t applied this money to this title [HEO] of employees, it would have just gone into across-the-board increases,” said Bowen. When asked
if this matter is a coincidence that women and people of color were targeted for this mishap, Clark stated “The equity increments were bargained explicitly to narrow inequities of race and class at CUNY. They knew that when they signed the contract when they assured the union in December that the equity raises would be paid and when they decided in January to not pay the equity raises.”
But, what is being done in the meantime to provide necessary funds to low-paid, full-time CUNY staff? Clark states that “Union members and leaders are pressing the Chancellor to reverse his decision. The union has presented a grievance based on the blatant contract violation and is following that process as well.”
Some may wonder, is this the message that defines working for CUNY? that being given a low salary basically means not getting paid at all? Clark stated “When he signed the latest contract in 2019, the chancellor said that the agreement reflects ‘the University’s strong and unwavering commitment to its faculty, both full-time and part-time, and staff across our 25 colleges.’ Where is that unwavering commitment now? Where was it in the spring when 2900 adjuncts were laid off?
He added, “CUNY management’s lack of respect for workers, as evidenced their failure even to inform CUNY employees that their raises were being withheld and their last-minute communication to the union about the delay, is astounding.”
UPDATE: On February 26th, CUNY members had a victory on getting the reversal of the CUNY chancellor’s decision to ignore the contract and refuse to pay equity increases to 2,500 colleagues in lower-paid full-time positions—Assistant to HEO and Lecturer titles.
Clark sent out a statement announcing this victory by stating “Late Friday night (February 26), hours before a planned demonstration in front of Chancellor Matos Rodríguez’s house, the chancellor reversed his decision. He signed an agreement with the union for payment of the increases. Assistants to HEO and faculty in full-time Lecturer titles (which include CLIP and CUNY Start Instructors) will receive this year’s full equity increase as a lump-sum payment and will have the increase applied on each salary step next year. In addition, CUNY management agreed to expedite their request for payment of the increases by the City and State so that members receive the money as soon as possible.”