Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Message for CUNY Members: Don’t Take the Money. By Sigmund Shen, LGCC.

Chapter chair Sigmund Shen, LaGuardia Community College, gives an eloquent and impassioned argument to continue the struggle and not lose what we gained when we voted overwhelmingly to  authorize a strike. Read his article in the Aug 2 issue of In These Times.

Honoring the union vote to strike at CUNY. Don't take the money.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Celebrating Defeat. The proposed CUNY contract is no victory — a just settlement will come only through struggle.

Celebrating Defeat, by James Dennis Hoff

Jacobin magazine, 7.19.16

On Monday July 11, members of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, which represents more than twenty-seven thousand faculty and staff at the City University of New York, received an email from the American Arbitration Association asking them to respond to a short and straightforward question. “Do you accept the proposed PSC-CUNY contract: Yes or No?”
Though the question was simple, making the right choice was much more complicated.

Celebrating Defeat, by James Dennis Hoff

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why I Am Voting "No!"

Rita C. Tobin

            One morning in September 1974, having just earned my M.A. in English and begun my long trek to a Ph.D., I borrowed my sister’s car and drove to Lehman College in the Bronx, where I had just been hired to teach freshman composition. It was my first teaching job:  I was 24 years old and had no training as a teacher.  Yet, with the support of my CUNY colleagues and a few good textbooks, I muddled through that first semester.  I was paid $1,500 for my efforts, the standard salary for a first-year CUNY adjunct.

            Forty-two years later, I am a seasoned teacher.  I’m also a practicing attorney.  I taught for many years while a graduate student at Columbia University, where I earned both my Ph.D. and J.D. I also taught at the New School and, for a year, as an adjunct lecturer at Barnard College.  For the past 10 years, while practicing law, I’ve been an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College.  Now at the high end of the pay scale for that position, I earn the grand sum of $3,928.05 per course – a bit more than half (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Standards inflation calculator, 53.7%), in real dollars, of what I earned in 1974 as a first-year adjunct.

            Today’s first-year adjuncts earn about 40%, in real dollars, of what I earned in 1974.   The new contract, which raises salaries for both part-timers and full-timers by a bit more than 10%, will not begin to bridge that gap.  In plain English – my subject – it ain’t enough.  Every other public sector union has won raises for their workers over the years that have at the very least kept up with inflation.  The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) has failed to do that.   Time after time, our union leaders have accepted bad deals.  

Full-timers have suffered; but adjuncts have been the worst affected.  Moreover, the presently proposed across-the-board 10% merely widens the gap between full-time and adjunct faculty, while failing to provide adjuncts with a living wage.  This means that the instructors who teach more than 60% of CUNY courses, particularly introductory and remedial courses that require the most individual attention, are paid far less than full-time faculty – in many instances, not enough to pay their basic living expenses -- and that this gap is merely widened by the present contract offer.  We are seasoned professionals with advanced degrees, including PhD’s, who are dedicated to our students and the NYC community.  Yet once again, we are being short-changed. 

While acknowledging that the salaries for adjuncts remain unacceptably low, the PSC nevertheless touts the promise of 3-year contracts for some adjuncts.  That promise, however, is illusory.  To obtain a 3-year contract, an adjunct must have taught at least two courses in the same department, at a single CUNY school, in each of the previous 10 semesters.  As all of us know only too well, however, courses are often canceled, sometimes only weeks before the first day of classes.  That is because enrolment is not predictable, and full-timers take priority when classes do not fill.  Adjuncts who signed contracts to teach two courses can lose one or both of those courses, often when it is too late to find another section to teach.

For this reason, few adjuncts can meet the criteria for a 3-year contract.  For example, although I’ve been an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter for over 10 years, about three years ago one of my courses was canceled.  Therefore, I am not eligible for a three-year contract.  Indeed, few adjuncts, even those teachers who have been hired year after year for decades, will qualify. Moreover, CUNY has the right to review the contract provision in 2020, thus making the promise of job security even more illusory.  The 3- year contract is tempting, tasty bait; yet few will qualify and that bait may soon disappear.

            In addition, the new contract continues to limit the number of credits that adjuncts may teach across CUNY in each semester.  Combined with the paltry raise, this means that thousands of CUNY teachers will continue to earn poverty-level incomes. The PSC claims that this is the best that can be achieved.  Really?  Are they kidding?

            Many adjuncts and full-timers believe that this contract is half-a-loaf, better than none.  I disagree.  This deal is not even half-a-loaf.  It’s not even a slice of bread.  It is bait:  a crumb attached to a hook. That hook is continued exploitation, insecurity and poverty.   The PSC leadership promised to fight for us adjuncts; yet all that it has delivered is a salary that remains about half of what I was earning on that morning, 42 years ago, when I navigated my way up to Lehman in a borrowed car.  All CUNY has given us in the way of job security is a raise that brings us nowhere near the cost-of-living; and a 3-year contract for which I, an experienced professional, as well as most of my colleagues, will not qualify.  Even worse, such contracts may “go away” in 2020.

            I am voting “no,” because it’s time to tell the PSC, CUNY and Governor Cuomo that it is not okay to finance hundred million dollar developments in Buffalo while CUNY teachers scrounge the money for a metro card.  Could the Governor live on 40% of Malcolm Smith’s (then the NYS governor) 1974 salary?  Do the members of the UFT and other public sector unions have no job security?  Does Barbara Bowen think that we adjuncts will take the bait, shut up, and “wait till next year” – again, and again, and yet again?

             This time I around, I won’t take the bait and wait; I’m voting “no.” 

Rita C. Tobin is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Hunter College (2005-present) and a practicing attorney. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Details on Proposed New Contract -- Memorandum of Agreement between PSC and CUNY

Here is the Memorandum of Agreement between President Barbara Bowen of our union and CUNY Chancellor James Milliken. The Executive Council of the PSC already accepted this, though the vote was not unanimous. On Thursday June 23 at 6:30pm the Delegate Assembly of the union will vote on it, most likely against the protests of many adjuncts and graduate students.
Memorandum of Agreement (aka draft contract)

The PSC website also has a summary of the new contract: PSC summary of contract

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Recommended to CUNY: Adopt the Vancouver Model

What is the Vancouver model? It's a plan to be fair to part-time and full-time faculty alike, to basically eliminate the two-tier system.

At Vancouver Community College, after instructors complete a relatively short probationary period and a successful review, they become "regular" instructors with the presumption of reappointment. Over time, part timers may switch to full time positions or may remain working part time. All faculty are on the same pay scale and the same seniority list.

Wouldn't it be great if the CUNY administration and the Professional Staff Congress would get together and set up such a fair and sensible plan at CUNY?

If you think we can do better at CUNY, study the Vancouver faculty's contract:
Vancouver Community College contract

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Contingent Faculty Union at Barnard Demands $15,000 Per Course

Naturally, their employer says that is ridiculous, pointing to the low wages of other contingent or adjunct faculty in the region. So Barnard is trying to tell their faculty that they won't pay a fair wage for teaching because, for example, CUNY doesn't?

Check out the contract proposal made by Barnard's Contingent Faculty (adjunct and other faculty off the tenure track) and imagine how excited about the strike authorization vote we'd feel if the PSC made similar demands for the majority of CUNY's faculty:
Contract Proposal of Barnard Contingent Faculty

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our Different Worlds: An Open Letter from an Adjunct (BMCC) to the Union Contract Bargaining Team

To the Bargaining team
There are many different worlds and cultures represented by the PSC. Each of these units has sought to achieve, and mostly succeeded in establishing a basic foundation of rights and benefits. This includes but is not limited to: true job security, wrap-around health benefits, including free or affordable family plans, Workman’s Compensation, pensions that will provide enough into retirement, medical coverage that can be taken into retirement, FMLA, yearly step increases, adequate sick days, cumulative sick leave, and paid vacation days.  These cornerstones, which others are building upon, have not yet been achieved by adjunct instructors, the largest group, of these factions.
Now, in the time of contract negotiations, we are told everyone has needs, so we can but have one wish, and, as we have achieved so little, it is not left to our discretion to make that choice, but has been determined by all those who are fortunate enough to have already surpassed us in every category.
Adjuncts understand when we are hired that we will make far less than FT instructors.  That is obvious and a bargain we strike with full cognizance.  In my case, when was I hired in 1982, I  was  just happy that I could teach in a college environment, and the money was adequate at that time. What was not apparent and did not become apparent for decades were the unnecessary and negotiated discrepancies in every other aspect of our lives. One must have a family to discover the family plan is unaffordable.  One must slash and burn through TRS, before one fully realizes how impossible the gap between our pensions and the cost of our lives will be when we retire. One must get very sick, before one realizes that there is no help if he/she exceeds that first week and that- not just paychecks- but medical care will be terminated. 
We understand that for those who have already attained these thresholds it is easy to view every other group as simply competing for the next step upward.  However, our world does not offer those basic protections.
Therefore, we would ask that SOME of these inequities, not just one, be eliminated in this contract. At the moment, the only provision crafted for us is a malapropism called job security which involuntarily chains senior adjuncts to three year contracts, triggering perpetual review and the continual risk of being excised from our departments.  Certainly no Full time faculty member would ever tolerate such a provision, yet our leadership has spent months negotiating it, despite our objections at every First Friday meeting.
Our world does not incorporate the gains made by our comrades, despite promises from the leadership, spanning 15 years. No adjunct can vote Yes in this contract if there is not some significant movement to reduce some of the inequities of our lives.
Jane Clark

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Strike authorization vote coming up: What are we fighting for? One adjunct's letter to the PSC Bargaining Team

April 27, 2016

Dear Bargaining Team,

As a union activist who has conducted a survey of over 450 adjuncts on one campus and also done a bit of organizing among adjuncts, I think I can assure you that, overall, adjunct union members enthusiastically support the bargaining agenda. Adjuncts can vote yes on strike authorization and will walk the picket line with everyone else. Some of us are ready to organize adjuncts to do just that. What adjunct members want union negotiators to remember is to be fair to all!

Across-the-board solutions such as a 3-credit workload reduction or a certain per­centage salary increase aren’t always fair. They may exacerbate or perpetuate existing inequities. “Fair” would reduce workload for full-time faculty at community colleges more than at senior colleges when the research and service obligations are the same. “Fair” would increase income for adjunct faculty more than for full-time faculty when teaching standards are the same. And “fair” would match the effective increase in pay per course due to workload reductions for full-timers with a corres­ponding increase in pay per course for adjuncts.

OK, you might say, we’ll do all that if there’s enough money on the table. Not OK! Even $1 can be broken up into different sized stacks of pennies. How is it fair to ask the lowest paid to sacrifice (again) for the sake of the highest paid? Would you ask adjuncts to subsidize (from their pensions, savings, other jobs, spouses’ incomes, etc.) not only the university but even their union brothers and sisters? And, ethical considerations aside, who benefits when the minimum wage for teaching is set so low?

Adjunct groups have suggested steps to fulfill the union’s promise of pay equity: a paid office hour for every course or a $30/hour increase at every step. We have asked that the 9/6 rule be relaxed so adjuncts can make a living without impossible complications. We have asked for either the CCE (a form of tenure) or the tried and true labor movement principle of seniority. And there are other possibilities.

As far back as 2004 the PSC espoused the goal of “parity for adjuncts in income and professional working conditions” and understood that “injury to one group is injury to all in a fully committed union of workers” (Sept 2004, DA Resolution for Dialog on Adjunct Workload). In 2007, our leadership pledged to achieve pay parity for adjuncts in Phase III of the 3-contract strategy (Nov-Dec 2007 Clarion). That’s this contract. And of course you all remember that the DA adopted “significant movement toward job security and parity for adjuncts” as a goal for this contract (Clarion, Dec. 2010).

Please, remember the union’s principles. Remember the union’s promises.

In solidarity,
Ruth Wangerin
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, CSI and Lehman College