Chancellor reverses decision to not pay promised raises



Noah Fleischman

Instead of taking the day off, CUNY staff and faculty union staged a socially distant emergency demonstration in front of CUNY’s central office on President’s Day, in response to Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez’s decision to not pay the equity raises that were promised in the most recent contract.

The Professional Staff Congress, a union consisting of about 30,000 CUNY staff and faculty, was instrumental in brokering the agreed-upon contract raises for assistants to Hire Education Officers, known as HEOs, lecturers, and a 2% raise for all staff. The chancellor signed off on this contract, so it upset many when that contract was violated and the raises were not delivered.

Assistants to HEOs were on the schedule for pay increases on Feb. 1. Instead, PSC offices received a call from CUNY’s Offices of Labor Relations and Human Resources.

A statement from Barbara Bowen and Andrea Vásquez, PSC president and first vice president respectively, said they informed the union that, “The Chancellor had made the decision not to implement the equity raises agreed to in the contract for Assistants to HEO and Lecturers this spring.”

They apologized for failing to inform the office sooner.

The last-minute action resulted in the quickly organized protest, which over a hundred people attended and peacefully marched.

“First, CUNY is setting a bad precedent by delaying payments already agreed upon in a labor contract,” Mark Rice, an assistant professor at Baruch College, said. “Second, it is particularly egregious that the people who will suffer from this decision, assistants to HEOs, are some of the lowest-paid employees in CUNY and are often women and people of color.”

Rice said he attended the protest because he feels that assistants to HEOs are a vital part of CUNY and need everyone’s support more than ever.

“It’s interesting too while this last fiat or decision by the chancellor affects lecturers and higher education officers, but there were several hundred members from all different ranks and titles,” PSC Baruch Chapter Chair Vincent DiGirolamo said.

While CUNY did receive a temporary 20% cut to its budget, it also received $250 million from the CARES Act in aid. A portion of funds — $118 million — went to supporting students who needed additional assistance due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Additionally, there was language in the act that suggested that some of this money would be used to keep CUNY staff employees. However, a layoff of around 3,000 adjuncts still followed soon afterward.

Following the layoffs, PSC filed a lawsuit against the university’s upper-level administration with the primary argument that the CARES Act mandated that colleges “to the extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors.”

Failure to reach an agreement may lead to further action over these alleged contract violations.

“My main objection to the Chancellor Matos Rodríguez’s rescindment of these raises is that this is the third contract violation supposedly necessitated by budget shortfalls,” DiGirolamo said. “But in no case has he sat down with PSC leaders beforehand to explain or seek buy-in from faculty and staff.”

PSC representatives say they are upset because they believe the CUNY administration is denying contractual funds to this group as they are “boasting about its diversity initiatives.”

“This attack on some of the lowest-paid full-time professional staff is an attack on all of us,” stated an article on the PSC website. “The union negotiated the $1,000 annual increment specifically to narrow gaps in salary and address inequities of race and class.”

The Chancellor’s office did not respond to The Ticker’s request for comment. CUNY delivered the below statement to The Ticker in response to the situation.”CUNY is extremely grateful for the work our employees have done throughout the health crisis. But without the federal resources that states, local governments and public universities have needed, we unfortunately had to take spending control measures to help us maintain the financial solvency of our University.”

CUNY added that the changes were necessary to ensure the institution can provide quality education for New Yorkers.

CUNY received $337 million in December, which can be spent on institutional needs from the pandemic. These funds are in addition to the $251 million CUNY received from the CARES Act earlier in 2020.

PSC said if the chancellor kept to the agreed-upon contract, the equity raises for assistants would cost less than $100,000 per month.

“What is the Union to do? Take it on the chin? Well, these are hard times, and I think our members want us and need us to defend the contract,” said DiGirolamo.

PSC has made it clear that it is willing to explore every route to enforce this contract.