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Dozens testify for back pay in front of CUNY board of trustees

CUNY students and faculty offered emotional testimonies at a CUNY board of trustees public hearing. Held on Monday, Sept. 19, on the 14th floor of the Newman Vertical Campus, the podium was open to speakers who wanted to discuss any calendar item on the agenda, including the budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Faculty salary schedules dominated the meeting as the most frequented topic of discussion.

More than 50 speakers attended and delivered a testimony, an overwhelming majority of which were dedicated to asking the board of trustees to consider giving professors and faculty members their raises as soon as possible.

Members of the Professional Staff Congress—the union that represents over 27,000 staff members across the 24 CUNY campuses—made up the bulk of the testifiers. In order to support the motion to advance salary schedules for all deserving faculty members, select participants and PSC-CUNY members held up signs that demanded a substantial wage increase.

Numerous faculty members detailed stories of financial struggle and medical needs that exemplified their need for a raise. Many adjunct professors cited statistics that illustrated that their salaries were just above the national poverty line. A few faculty members brought up the point that private schools would pay the same professors nearly double of what CUNY faculty members are currently being paid.

Among those sitting on the board are CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Baruch College President Mitchel B. Wallerstein and several presidents and deans of individual colleges within the CUNY system. Testifiers addressed Milliken in particular when they called for adjustment of salary schedules for faculty members.

The hearing began with an address from Milliken, who described his excitement for the current academic year. “I’m filled with a sense of optimism, in part because of what has been achieved recently. We settled our labor contracts this summer with faculty and staff, agreeing on well-deserved raises for faculty and staff responsible for the great work that CUNY does every day. The implementation of these contracts remains to be a priority,” said Milliken. Over 40,000 CUNY employees were promised bonuses that corresponded to the amount and quality of extra work that they completed.

Although the labor contracts had been sorted out and discussed, the resolution did not satisfy the testifiers since the raises would not be effective until January 2017. Milliken rationalized this additional postponement by stating that CUNY has “been working closely with the Comptroller and the City Payroll Officer on implementation” of the increased wages, a process that can take up to 26 weeks to be approved.

Milliken expressed his sentiment with the faculty and staff members who felt frustrated due to the longer wait, but indicated that the process cannot move faster, a statement that elicited a groan and angry chatter from the speakers.

Speakers were asked to hand in a paper copy of their speech before giving a three minute testimony in front of the board. Photo by Jonathan Sperling.

Speakers were asked to hand in a paper copy of their speech before giving a three minute testimony in front of the board. Photo by Jonathan Sperling.

The first speaker at the podium, a professor at Fordham Law School, emphasized the benefits of the partnership that exists between Hunter College High School and CUNY.

Gloria Paulus, the second speaker and full-time counselor in the SEEK Program at Baruch, implored the board of trustees to immediately release the back pay owed to the faculty members. She recounted her financial desperation and told the board that she was currently living in a hazardous environment that has been issued violations by the city of New York.

Her physician informed her that she would be unable to live in her home while repairs are ongoing. Although Paulus has been living elsewhere for nine months, she has still been obligated to continue to pay monthly rent for the compromised living space.

The extension of the wait-time for the back pay did not suit her. “As a result, I now have additional living expenses. My only option for a safe and comparable living environment is to commute from South Jersey just to have a roof over my head. In addition to the physical and mental challenges of my situation, the financial tolls are great,” she said.

Many other speakers expressed similar concerns and problems that arose over the additional estimated wait-time to receive their back pay.

Aside from the salary schedule, other issues were brought to the attention of the board by various testifiers. Lisette Nieves, president of the Guttman Community College Foundation, focused on the expansion of resources within the individual school in order to best serve the growing student population.

Other faculty members highlighted the need for more funding for students with disabilities.

Another student from John Jay College of Criminal Justice emphasized how her experience studying gender and sexuality abroad contributed to her career goals. She encouraged more funding to be allocated into study abroad efforts. Other students advocated on behalf of unique, college-specific mentorship programs that enabled them to connect with internships and develop a professional demeanor.

Among the speakers, Daniel Dornbaum, president of Baruch’s Undergraduate Student Government, also presented the board of trustees with criticisms of the released CUNY Master Plan.

In particular, he addressed the opposition of the board to the rational tuition policy, which barred the board from raising tuition. The Master Plan, however, as indicated by Dornbaum, suggests that tuition will keep rising and that students will have to pay the tuition hikes.

Dornbaum also expressed his gratitude for the renovations that are being installed in the 23rd Street Building.

September 24, 2016

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