April 19, 2016
By Stephanie West
New York, NY — After more than five years without a contract and six years without a raise for its members, the union of faculty and professional staff at the City University announced a strike authorization vote on May 2 – May 11. Professional Staff Congress (PSC) President Barbara Bowen said the union is committed to resolving the contract and will not take any job action during the current academic year, but could take action in the fall if left with no alternative.
“The PSC is committed to mediation and ready to bargain non-stop, but the CUNY Administration has failed to offer salaries that will support our families and our students’ education. PSC members do not want to strike, but the quality of the education we provide to CUNY students is on the line, and many of us are struggling after six years without even a modest cost-of-living increase. Every day we go without a decent contract erodes CUNY’s academic stature,” said Bowen. “The union hopes to build on the growing public and legislative support for funding our contract, and we will do everything we can to reach an agreement through negotiations. We will not take a job action this semester, but we are ready to do what is necessary in the fall,” she added.
CUNY provides a high-quality education to over 500,000 students, many of them low-income and students of color. But its 25,000 professors and staff have seen the value of their pay plummet against NYC’s rising cost of living. The University is having difficulties retaining faculty and is hobbled in its recruitment efforts by uncompetitive salaries.
Chancellor Milliken has testified about the need for better salaries and the links between low pay, faculty recruitment and academic quality. But in November his administration proposed a contract with raises lower than those in any established City or State contract pattern and below the rate of inflation. Since then, the Chancellor has called for State funding to support pay increases commensurate with those negotiated with faculty at SUNY.
The vote is not a vote to strike; it is a vote to authorize the union’s Executive Council to call a strike or other job action if a fair contract cannot be achieved any other way. The authorization vote is the latest escalation in a five-year effort by the union to negotiate an acceptable contract with the CUNY Administration.
A strike authorization vote is unusual for a public-sector union in New York, but it is legal. While state law imposes financial and legal penalties on public-sector unions and employees who participate in strikes or other job actions, the vote itself is within the law. Many CUNY faculty and staff members have already said they are willing to take this extraordinary step if it is necessary to get a fair contract.