A lack of communication from CUNY administrators throughout the pandemic have left apprehensive employees and union leaders considering the possibility of a labor strike to advocate for the safe transition back to in-person classes.
The movement is being spearheaded by the Hostos Action Committee, an employee group in the Hostos Community College, where members have outlined a list of demands for CUNY to address regarding safety protocols.
As over 7,000 employees are scheduled to return to campus this fall semester and many are unsure as to what measures will be taken after classes begin on August 25. Coupled with the recent rise of Covid-19 cases in New York, many are turning to CUNY for further action.
According to representatives from The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), a union representing 30,000 CUNY employees, “The vast majority of CUNY Employees haven’t set foot on campus since last March and have little information about the ventilation of their workspaces, or the cleanliness of spaces that have been unoccupied for over a year.”
Along with the demands, the PSC has also supported a “no return without a safe return” policy, proposing the delayed transition to campuses if union officials deem their facilities as unsafe.
Further details regarding reopening plans for August were released by CUNY officials back in May, including staff being required to wear masks, mandatory quarantine periods for those who contract the virus, and frequent testing for unvaccinated students attending in-person classes. Despite this, the implementation of certain measures such as vaccine certifications didn’t take effect until late-July, causing CUNY to push back their deadlines for early September.
As member of the Hostos Action Committee Alex Wolf, explains, “It takes a full month to be fully vaccinated. I don’t believe the mandate will be enforced before school begins. And the testing protocol of seven days is too long to prevent a potential outbreak on campus.”
Along with the inspection of campus protocols such as ventilation systems, demonstrators are also pushing for CUNY to waive financial holds that are preventing students from registering for fall classes as well as rehire adjunct professors who were fired during the pandemic.
According to the PSC, an estimated 3,000 adjunct professors were laid off during the pandemic, with non-teaching adjuncts having been placed on month-to-month contracts. With the start of the fall semester, only 1,000 professors have been rehired to teach, with many CUNY institutions opting for larger class sizes rather than increasing their base faculty.
While the majority of classes are scheduled to be conducted in-person, the deficiency in staffing as well as lack of cohesion from administration demonstrate how CUNY seems to still be operating from a paradigm of austerity.
Despite this structure, CUNY received $841 million in federal relief funds in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with administrators apprehensive as to how exactly to spend it.
While CUNY employees and students remain unsure as to how the fall semester will unfold, a sense of solidarity can be observed across all parties. Unlike the shift to online learning, those who will be returning to campus this fall are sure to be greeted with feelings of nostalgia.