PSC-CUNY protests during contract negotiations

CUNY offered the Professional Staff Congress a 6 percent wage increase over six years, following hours of negotiation between the Office of Labor Relations and the union’s bargaining team on Nov. 4. The negotiations were protested by CUNY faculty and staff outside of the CUNY Central Office on 42nd Street, resulting in 54 arrests. The collective bargaining offer comes five years after the previous contract’s expiration and six years after the previous wage increase.

If approved by PSC-CUNY, , the union that represents more than 25,000 CUNY faculty and staff, wages will increase retroactively and incrementally per year up until 2016. Faculty members are looking at a 1 percent retroactive increase on wages earned on and after April 20, 2014 and a 1 percent increase for wages earned on and after April 20, 2015. Effective April 20, 2016, faculty and staff will see a 3 percent increase in pay and a final 1 percent increase on Oct. 19, 2016, if the contract is accepted by PSC-CUNY.

The negotiations began at approximately 2:30 p.m. in the CUNY Central Office on 42nd Street. Just outside, nearly 800 PSC-CUNY members gathered together in support of a new contract, demanding fair economic treatment.

During this “act of mass disruption,” 54 of the protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for blockading the doors in an act of nonviolent protest. The protest was led by Barbara Bowen, PSC-CUNY president.

“Without real progress toward competitive salaries, CUNY will be unable to attract and keep the faculty and staff our students deserve,” she told her colleagues.

“We took a stand today for educational justice for the working people of New York.”

The arrested PSC-CUNY members were released with adjournment with contemplation of dismissal. They are expected to appear in court on Dec. 15.

PSC-CUNY is closely affiliated with New York State United Teachers and the New York City Central Labor Council.

According to its website, its mission is to “negotiate, administer and enforce collective bargaining agreements, protect the rights of staff through the grievance and arbitration process [and] engage in political activity on behalf of CUNY and its staff and students.”

According to a report prepared by Katharine Cobb, vice president for administration and finance, for the Baruch general faculty meeting on Oct. 29, new and higher programming was suspended for fiscal year 2015-2016.

“Rather than releasing tuition revenue generated by this year’s tuition rate increase for Compact initiatives, the University has held these funds in reserve as a resource to be used to cover costs associated with a new PSC contract,” the report states.

The revenue generated from tuition hikes beginning in 2012 has been reserved to cover the cost of a contract with PSC-CUNY; likewise, CUNY’s offer is funded through this reserve.

The CUNY Compact mentioned in the report is a financial strategy that calls for the state and the city to shoulder more of CUNY’s mandatory costs of operation, such as providing fringe benefits and flexibility for collective bargaining.

It also calls for tuition to contribute to a lesser portion of CUNY’s operating budget.

Two Baruch professors attended the rally and sit-in: anthropology professor Glenn Petersen, who is also the former chair of the Baruch chapter of PSC-CUNY, and Vincent DiGiralamo, professor of history.

Both were present during the bargaining session and were later arrested.

DiGiralamo recounted the CUNY representatives as being callous, stating that, “I was really struck by the arrogance and the posturing, and the righteous parsimony of the offer. I was a little ambivalent but I think it’s necessary. It’s important to try to exert some pressure.”

He also argued that the offer on the table is “negotiating backwards,” in that the contract expires in less than a year.

“We’re going to take a breath and boom, it’s going to be the same thing,” he said. “So I took part and sat down, waved my hands and shook my fists, and then one by one … I just kept thinking, ‘CUNY in cuffs, this is what it’s come to.’”

Disorderly conduct is a violation in New York, so the arrested members do not face jail time.

Petersen highlighted the role that the state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo play in CUNY’s affairs.

“The state of New York, which funds us, decided not to live up to the agreement it made to supply money in response to students’ tuition being raised. CUNY Central says it doesn’t have money to give us a raise, and that’s because they can’t get money from the state,” explained Petersen, in reference to the mandatory costs yet to be fully paid by the state under CUNY Compact.

“I think that this is really important for students to understand that the primary issue here is the failure of the state. Students were asked to pay more tuition [and] in return the state would provide,” he continued.

“I went to public college when it was free—and I think it’s a tragedy that it’s not still free—but at least the state should be meeting the obligations it has agreed to.”

When contacted for a comment on the contract situation, Baruch referred The Ticker to a statement released by President Mitchel B. Wallerstein on Oct. 28.

“[T]he problem is not specific to Baruch; nor, unfortunately, is it one that is within my power, as president of the College, to address unilaterally,” said Wallerstein.

“While there may be an inclination to use our collective dissatisfaction as a rationale to impede or slow the business of the College, doing so benefits no one—least of all our hardworking students.”

PSC-CUNY has not outright rejected the offer, but they have no plans to accept it.

Petersen said that negotiations will continue for the foreseeable future.

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