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Since October 2008, the employees of the City University of New York (CUNY) had not received a pay raise of any kind. That was scheduled to change this past summer.
The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and District Council 37 (DC-37) reached a tentative contract agreement with CUNY, announced by Chancellor James B. Milliken and DC-37’s Executive Director Henry Garrido on June 10, 2016. This past summer the proposed contract received a dominant approval vote of 98 percent by DC-37 members and was also approved by CUNY’s Board of Trustees.
The previous contract between CUNY and its faculty and staff ended on October 31, 2009, marking over six years of negotiating, disagreement and even hostility as there were threats of going on strike and refusing to work this Fall 2016 semester by faculty and staff.
Students at LaGuardia Community College have undoubtedly seen numerous protests on campus over the past year, conducted by some of the very professors they fix their attention upon during their classes.
It appears that those efforts have paid off.
Slated from November 1, 2009 to January 31, 2017, the contract stipulates that there will be a wage increase compounded at a total of 10.4 percent over 87 months. CUNY’s full-time staff also received a lump sum bonus of up to one thousand dollars this past October.
Adjunct lecturers have received the option of premium-free health insurance as well as three- year appointments, resulting in greater job security.
The salary increase keeps even with the inflation rate of about 8.8 percent; however, the rate is expected to rise up to 2 percent next year which will need to be addressed when negotiations commence for the next contract.
Retroactive pay was an issue that the union fought hard for and succeeded in obtaining; however, it will not be sent out until January, disappointing some like Lenore McShane who had hoped to receive the long overdue money in time for the holidays.
Ms. McShane, vice president of Local 384 of DC- 37, was part of the negotiating team and entered the negotiations with optimism. “I really did think it was going to happen a lot quicker than it did.”
According to Ms. McShane, negotiations cannot begin for the next contract until the completion of the current contracts with the city and the state, contrary to the contract renewal process of other professions or businesses.
“I’m pretty satisfied,” she said, in regards to the results of the negotiations.
Others felt similarly, but had their fair share of concerns.
Hugo Fernandez, a Humanities professor at LaGuardia Community College and member of the University Faculty Senate, expressed his jubilation for the outcome: “I was ecstatic that we finally got through it.”
However, he was critical of the entire process and the union. “It was upsetting the way the union responded getting our retroactive pay,” said Mr. Fernandez. “It was a waste of time. As you can see, we still haven’t gotten our money any faster.”
He went on to question the motives of the union “It makes me wonder if they’re just avoiding other issues. Are they confused or not aware of what the real issues are or are they doing this to just keep people engaged?”
Regardless, Mr. Fernandez reiterated that he was “grateful that the contract was resolved.”
Sigmund Shen, an English professor at LaGuardia Community College and Chair of the LaGuardia chapter of the PSC, is an advocate of free community college and critical of both workers and the administration, “They buy into management’s delusional rhetoric that you have to raise tuition to protect our jobs,” said Mr. Shen. “That has nothing to do with reality.”
He also calls for “unity between the workers and the students. When the students are not active or when the workers don’t try to unite them, then it’s not going to be possible to really break free.”
In addition to wage increase, workload reduction is one of the most significant concerns to address in the next contract, according to Mr. Fernandez. “Most community college faculty feel their workload is higher than the 4-year colleges,” said Mr. Fernandez.
According to Mr. Fernandez, a tuition hike of one hundred or two hundred dollars could contribute to reducing faculty workload, resulting in more class sections and increased teacher availability and support.
PSC Communications Director, Fran Clark, feels that the tuition rise should be avoided, “We do not believe tuition hikes are the best way to fund CUNY.”
Victor Alvarez, 25, who is studying Human Services and Mental Health, believes free tuition is the only option. “Why not make it free? If you’re not guaranteeing me a job after I graduate, why should I pay? Look at who goes to community colleges, mostly black and brown people.”
Ms. McCusker, a student at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, is in favor if adding more class sections but not at the expense of students’ wallets, “These students can’t really afford an increase.”
She also would like to see “things that promote job security” added to the next contract. “Lower turnover will lead to better production. I hate having someone new who will have to learn the system every year.”
Mr. Shen is looking for “a contract that definitely exceeds the rate of inflation,” but he remains pessimistic on the prospect of getting the ideal contract.
When asked what was the chance of getting the contract that the union wants, Mr. Shen responded, “Zero.”
The current contract ends next year and it took six years of negotiations to come to an agreement.
If negotiations stall or hit an impasse, a strike by faculty and staff is not off the table. For the sake of the students, CUNY and the PSC and DC-37 would be wise to prevent that.