Earlier in the summer, I noted some opposition by CUNY faculty serving contingently to the contract proposed by the leadership–a group of folks including Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Bowen, Marcia Newfield, and others that I regard as friends and mentors: these are the people that brought me into the movement. At the time, they were the insurgent “New Caucus” leading an innovative coalition of graduate employees, contingent faculty and tenure-stream folks fed up with the business unionism of the Polishook crowd. They have made real gains for graduate employees and faculty serving contingently, but not as quickly as we perhaps all hoped. There are real victories in this contract, including substantial raises, health insurance for graduate student employees, and 100 lines devoted to conversion of faculty serving part-time to tenurable positions.

Nonetheless, faculty serving on a per-course basis (who teach half of all courses on CUNY’s seventeen campuses) noted that the almost 17% gain in their top compensation doesn’t much close the gap toward wage parity with full-time faculty (whose top compensation improved 14%), and that 30 or 35 conversions a year wasn’t going to fix the problem of thousands of faculty serving in permanently temporary adjunct hell.

Additionally, as other unions in New York City and nationally have begun to win improved job security for faculty serving part-time or on term contracts, CUNY adjuncts understandably hope for similar protections. On the basis of these concerns, some faculty serving contingently organized a “vote no” campaign, leading to about a 7% vote against the contract.

As the press release below notes, the PSC leadership is aware that “the abusive adjunct system is not cured” by this contract. They promise to make the issues of faculty serving contingently–job security, stabilized health insurance, wage parity–central to the next round of bargaining.

The Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, the union of 22,000 faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York, announced that its membership has ratified a new contract by a margin of 93% in a vote counted today by the American Arbitration Association.

CUNY Gets a Raise—and Other Improvements

The new 37-month contract expires on October 19, 2010. Under its terms, faculty and staff represented by the PSC will receive a salary increase of at least 10.5%, in addition to annual increases of between 3.5% and 4.5% for the thousands of employees entitled to annual salary step increases. One of the union’s victories was to preserve the annual step increases, which CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein sought to eliminate.

The union campaigned on the slogan “CUNY Needs a Raise,” and was able to negotiate a creative distribution of dollars so that the many employees who have reached the senior level in their positions will receive additional increases, beyond the 10.5%, in October 2009. The top professor’s salary will rise by a total of 13.8%, to more than $116, 000, and the top adjunct’s salary will rise by 16.7%. The larger increase for adjuncts was demanded by the union to begin to close the huge gap between part-time and full-time salaries at CUNY.

“The best thing about this contract is its creativity,” said PSC President Dr. Barbara Bowen. “In addition to decent salary increases, it stretches the available dollars to provide bigger increases at the top and the bottom of the salary scale, and includes some equity provisions and advances we had sought for years. The creativity was possible because members organized: the contract bears the imprint of the collective action of thousands of faculty and staff, whose campaigns on the issues shaped its provisions.”

While the total economic package conforms to the constraints imposed on public employee unions by New York City and State, the new contract contains innovative provisions beyond the salary increases; it is also supplemented by two additional agreements that add up to real change. Among the innovations are salary differentials for certain professional staff who earn advanced academic degrees, a pilot program of individual student mentoring, a fund to support paid parental leave, a program for sharing sick days with colleagues in need, and a limited number of positions in a new title, Clinical Professor.

Separate agreements create 100 new full-time faculty positions, to be filled after a selection process from among CUNY’s outstanding part-time faculty, and a major advance for the CUNY Graduate Center—health insurance for doctoral students employed by CUNY.

Beat Back Management Demands
 “Some of what’s most significant in this contract is what’s not here,” Bowen added. “Thanks to member pressure, we defeated CUNY management’s campaign to centralize power and undermine the professional autonomy essential to university life.” In addition to securing unfettered access to college e-mail systems for union use, the union beat back management demands to eliminate salary steps, reduce job security for some professional staff, remove elected department chairs from the union, and introduce “merit pay.”

Abusive Adjunct System Not Cured
But major issues remain, including CUNY’s patently unfair treatment of its 7,000 adjunct faculty. The most intense debate within the union after the deal was announced centered on the difficulty of winning transformative change in the adjunct system. A group of part-timers organized a “vote no” campaign, and union negotiators interpreted some of the 7% negative vote as a protest against the lack of structural improvements for adjuncts. CUNY continues to employ part-time faculty to teach half of its courses, and they work without significant job security, parity wages or secure health insurance. While recent PSC contracts have won major enhancements for this group—including paid office hours, new full-time positions, and a $1.5 million professional development fund—deep structural inequities remain.

The PSC is determined to tackle this and other systemic issues of salary and workload in the next round, for which organizing discussions have already begun.

The new contract has already been approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees, and the necessary legislation has been passed in Albany and signed by the governor. Ratification by the PSC membership completes the process. The previous contract expired September 20, 2007.






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