CUNY Faculty Wins Protections for Part-Time Profs

August 10, 2016 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – After more than six years without a raise, 25,000 faculty members and professional staff at the City University of New York overwhelmingly ratified a new contract that will give them retroactive pay increases and wins health insurance and some job security for eligible adjunct professors.

In results announced Aug. 4 by the Professional Staff Congress union, 94% of the more than 13,000 members who voted approved the contract. Support was slightly lower among adjuncts, but 86% voted yes, said PSC President Barbara Bowen. 

The deal, which will run from October 2010 through November 30, 2017, will raise PSC members’ salaries by a total of 10.4%, with retroactive increases going back to 2012 and a 1.5% raise coming in April. And in a deal the administration agreed to after midnight on the last night of negotiations, CUNY will be required to consider all adjuncts who have taught at least two three-credit classes a semester for the last five years for three-year appointments—in which it must pay them or find them alternative work if no teaching spots are available.

“That is a very big breakthrough,” Bowen told LaborPress. “For the first time, the institution will make a commitment to guarantee employment for adjuncts. It means an adjunct can count on income for three years.” Currently, adjuncts often don’t know whether they’ll have work until the week before the semester begins—or they think they’ll have work and then lose it when a course is cancelled.

The PSC estimates that “well over” 1,000 of the university’s about 12,000 adjuncts will be eligible for two-year appointments this fall, and a similar number more will become eligible when the three-year appointments begin in the fall semester of 2017. “Departments will be able to plan curriculum in advance, and students will have the benefit of knowing that their instructor will be working in the department for more than one semester,” the union said in a message to members. “Most important, the three-year appointment will affect how all adjuncts are hired, supported, mentored and evaluated; it will introduce much greater professionalism in the treatment of adjuncts.”

The money in the deal is not great, says Bowen, as it doesn’t “break austerity.”  Like the retroactive contracts given to other New York City union workers in the past two years, it more or less just keeps up with inflation. However, she adds, for years the state government resisted giving CUNY faculty and staff any retroactive pay.

More important, she says, “we won big structural changes in the workplace.” In addition to the three-year appointments for adjuncts, the contract also gives them fully paid individual health insurance. Professional staff in “non-promotional” positions, such as counselors and financial-aid advisers, will gain opportunities for both pay increases and having their job titles upgraded, the PSC says. And the deal also “includes a binding commitment by management” to reduce the teaching load for full-time faculty by the equivalent of one-three-credit course “by a specific time: the ratification of the next contract.”

That, says Bowen, is something the union has been seeking for more than 15 years. Professors’ current workload is “too heavy” for them to give much individual time to students, a situation many find “heartbreaking.” As many CUNY students come from poor or immigrant backgrounds, she adds, they often need one-on-one attention more than students at elite colleges, but they are less likely to get it.

The union also held off management demands to pay higher salaries to a handful of star-level faculty and eliminate limits on the number of full-time professors who can be hired on one-year contracts. “We said no,” Bowen says. “The real thing that’s needed at CUNY is higher incomes for all.” The deal retains the current limit of 250 professors in the system who can be hired on one-year appointments.

“It’s not just a defensive contract,” Bowen says. While it doesn’t end the system where “half of CUNY staff are underpaid,” she adds, “we have chipped away at it substantially.”

The PSC was able to win those gains, she says, “because of the campaign we waged”—the members’ intense organization, the mobilization of support from students and the public, and “the resounding vote to authorize a strike.”

August 9, 2016

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