By Samip Delhiwala
Published: September 14th, 2016
The City University of New York (CUNY) announced on Thursday, June 16 that it has reached a tentative contract deal with the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), one of CUNY’s largest labor unions that is composed of more than 27,000 faculty and staff members. This deal has come after years of failed negotiations and members working without a contract,
PSC stated in a new release that the proposed agreement “provides 10.41 percent in compounded salary increases over a period of slightly more than seven years, from October 20, 2010, through November 30, 2017.” Employees will begin to receive the retroactive raises in their paychecks sometime during the fall of 2017.
“The deal provides not only a much-needed increase in pay for our many faculty and staff, but it also includes additional provisions important to CUNY’s competitiveness for talent at all levels,” said CUNY’s chancellor, James B. Milliken, in a written statement issued after the contract was finalized.
The contracts will also provide signing bonuses for new faculty members and a provision that pledges to aid professors in spending time with individual students.
CUNY faculty and staff went nearly seven years without a contract, after the last one expired in 2010. CUNY’s first financial offer, a six percent raise over six years, came in the fall of 2015. However, the PSC rejected what they called a “lousy” offer and demanded 14 percent over six years.
The union performed a series of escalating maneuvers, including a protest back in November of 2015 in front of the CUNY Central Office in Manhattan, to pressure CUNY and the city and state governments into accepting the new offer. PSC and CUNY eventually compromised on the final figure, which was approved by 94 percent of the voting members.
Despite the recent deal, many faculty members expressed their displeasure towards the handling of the negotiations, the meager salary increases that the deal will provide, and the delay in receiving the raises. However, according to the chairman of the Brooklyn College chapter of the PSC, James Davis, the deal was the best that the union was able to get with the current governmental situation.
“The salary increases are not ideal because we all know how expensive New York is and how quickly inflation rises,” said Davis. “But no one close to the bargaining process claims they got a perfect deal. The got the best they could under extraordinarily tough circumstances: an openly antagonistic governor threatening to divest nearly half a billion dollars in state funds from CUNY and a university administration that was ineffective at advocating publicly for its students and faculty.”
The situation Davis is referring to is New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal back in January to shift one-third of CUNY’s overall budget to the city. Many individuals joined the PSC in its outrage towards the proposal, including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We will fight these cuts. We will ask the assistance of both houses of the Legislature in fighting these cuts. They are unprecedented and they are unfair to this city,” said de Blasio, in protest of Cuomo’s proposal. “We have to reduce the cost of the bureaucracy at CUNY”
In response to the criticism of the relatively low raises, Davis explained that the raises would be nowhere near as high had the union membership not voted overwhelmingly on authorizing a strike last semester. But he emphasized the significance of non-economic gains.
“Substantial advances were made on adjunct faculty health insurance and job stability, on dental care and parental leave, on library faculty issues, and on professional advancement for large sectors of the professional staff,” stated Davis.
Additionally, the timing of the raises is not in the union’s control. Rather, the university—in coordination with the state Office of the Comptroller—is responsible for paying employees. However, the PSC is making an effort to take control of that situation.
“It’s time to let Chancellor Milliken and the CUNY trustees know how much hardship has been caused by CUNY management’s failure to act with urgency to pay our raises,” stated PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen in a message to her colleagues on the PSC-CUNY website. “The salary increase and retroactive pay are not a luxury for us; they are a financial necessity, especially after seven years of waiting.”
The PSC is already planning on making significant efforts to make sure it receives an improved contract after the current one expires next year.
“There are certainly areas in which this contract doesn’t go far enough, but those will be targets for the next contract,” assured Davis.