PSC-CUNY members authorize strike with majority ‘Yes’ vote

Following more than a week of voting and the collection of over 10,000 votes, Professional Staff Congress CUNY voted “yes” to authorize a strike over contract funding.

An overwhelming majority of voters, or 92 percent, voted “yes,” despite the potential legal and financial repercussions for PSC-CUNY’s leaders if a strike occurs in the fall.

Of the 10,000 ballots cast, 92 percent were in favor of authorizing a strike.

The Taylor Law allows public workers to unionize while taking away their ability to strike. Thus, any strikes organized by public workers, including CUNY professors, can result in detention of PSC-CUNY leaders and multiple fines.

“The vote itself has no particular result, but the size of the turnout and the huge margin of approval convey to Gov. Cuomo that the PSC negotiators are backed up by the membership’s resolve,” said Glenn Petersen, a former chairman of Baruch’s chapter of PSC.

“This tactic worked well in California, where the state university system’s faculty union voted by almost the same margin to strike and got an acceptable contract just last month.”

Petersen is referring to efforts taken by the California Faculty Association in the face of their own battle against unsatisfactory wages. Thanks to the CFA and a successful vote for strike authorization, California State University faculty was able to receive a tentative agreement in April from the CSU administration.

Prior to the affirmative strike authorization vote, CSU faculty was offered a 4 percent retroactive salary raise. Following the vote, they were offered a total of 13.8 percent pay raise with Supplemental Security Income. CFA members have since voted to ratify the tentative agreement, which will be voted on by the CSU Board of Trustees between May 24 and 25.

The union’s bargaining team, aided by Kim Moore-Ward, who is the New York State Public Employment Relations Board’s chief regional mediator, received an offer for a 6 percent retroactive salary increase from CUNY late last year. The increase would essentially amount to nothing after adjusting for inflation, and the proposal was ultimately rejected by PSC.

“The union bargaining team will walk into our next negotiating session with the power of a 92 percent ‘yes’ vote at our backs. Contract talks with CUNY are ongoing, and the union is doing its utmost to reach an acceptable agreement within the next few weeks,” said Barbara Bowen, president of PSC, in an email statement to the union’s members.

“The union leadership is also working with lawmakers in Albany to build on the support many have expressed for funding our contract.”

PSC would like to reach a contract settlement within the next two months, before the state legislature goes into recess at the end of June.

If an agreement is not made in that time, according to as past PSC statement, they will not strike until the Fall semester.

The vote represents an escalation of an issue that affects the education quality of over 500,000 CUNY students, as well as over 25,000 professors and staff.

A vote for a strike authorization has not been taken by PSC in over 40 years when CUNY did not offer them a contract. As a result of a 4-1 vote in favor of authorizing a strike, as well as a year of negotiations between PSC and the Board of Higher Education—a predecessor to the CUNY Board of Trustees—PSC eventually won their first contract in 1973.

“The disregard for faculty has put out education in jeopardy and the only way CUNY will continue to attract the highest caliber faculty is if CUNY comes to a fair agreement with PSC,” said Daniel Dornbaum, vice president of legislative affairs for USG. “The vote will hopefully demonstrate to our elected officials how serious the situation is here at CUNY and will convince them to address our concerns before the end of session.”

In the end, the authorization vote does not mean that a strike will occur.