Puny CUNY: Workers Strike Against Raw Deal

July 2, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco

PSC President Barbara Bowen joins striking workers.

PSC President Barbara Bowen joins striking workers.

New York, NY – CUNY Research Foundation employees working without a contract since last December, walked off the job on Monday in a one-day strike to protest management’s intransigence at the bargaining table – but strikers say that the action could soon be repeated if management doesn’t back off its drive to create a lower tier compensation package for new hires, and force below-inflation-rate salaries onto union workers overall. (Watch Video)

“We might not be out here tomorrow,” Central Office Chapter Chair Anthony Dixon said. “But we might be out here the next day. We might not be out here the day after that, but we might be out here next week. We might not be out here next week, but we might be out here next month. This is not over by no means.”

The Research Foundation, located at 230 West 41st Street, administers grants for CUNY faculty and employs about 100 workers who are represented by the Professional Staff Congress [PSC]. An overwhelming majority of those employees voted to strike on July 1, and where out demonstrating in front of the Research Foundation offices in monsoon-like conditions.

“It is ridiculous that this place with 100 employees has to have such drama to settle a contract,” PSC President Barbara Bowen told LaborPress. “We will not stand for a lower wage tier for future workers because it depresses everybody’s wages. It’s not fair.”

CUNY Research Foundation workers last demonstrated outside thier offices back in May. July 1, marked the start of the fiscal year and was an import day for the CUNY Research Foundation. But Pricilla Villacis, an employee in the Department of Grants and Contracts for the past six years, said that it was important to walk out and send a clear message to management.

“We’re introducing a new program, and instead of being in there working, we’re out here striking because we want a fair contract – not just for existing employees, but for new hires as well,” Villacis said. “I believe that it’s very important for everybody to have the same benefits. Old employees as well as new hires. We just want to let management know that we’re serious. The union is together and we’re showing it today.”

The union has already agreed to several concessions, including the percentage that employees have to pay on rising health care premiums, reduced sick leave accrual time and the amount of pay employees receive in the event of a lay-off.

According to Dixon, management’s intractability reflects a callous and even hostile attitude to union members. 

“Management has no problem paying themselves greatly,” Dixon said. “They have no problem paying their managers greatly. They have no problem paying their non-union workers greatly. But when it comes down to paying their union employees, for some reason, they become cheap. They become misers. They decide that we don’t deserve the same privilege that all of the employees of the Research Foundation are shown. For some reason, they feel that the union employees are second class citizens.”

The union argues that the Research Foundation is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and is more than capable of compensating hardworking and dedicated union employees equitably. 

“The Research Foundation is flush, and there is plenty of ability to give a fair wage,” Bowen said. “Nobody’s looking to get rich. Nobody is looking to have outrageous wages. These are modestly-paid people. But they should be paid fairly.”

CUNY Research Foundation workers are considered private sector employees and are therefore not prohibited from striking under the Taylor Law. Despite the strong support for a strike, union officials insist that the action was not taken lightly. 

“We’ve tried everything,” Bowen said. “We’ve tried rallies, pickets, petitions, T-shirts, buttons. Everything. And they [management] won’t move off their concessionary offer. We felt that we had to show how serious we were and give a taste of the real power of workers.”

Dixon characterized the one-day walkout as a “a symbol that we’re trying to project.”

“We’re trying to let management know that these individuals aren’t second-class citizens,” Dixon said. “We’re trying to let management know that we are just as important to the function of the Research Foundation as they are.”

Regarding a more traditional open-ended strike, the chapter chair suggested that such an action, while justified, would adversely affect struggling workers too much.

“Personally, I would like this strike to last indefinitely,” Dixon said. “But these people are already living from paycheck to paycheck. To force them to go without a paycheck would put 75 percent of these people in poverty and make them homeless. Why would the Research Foundation want us to do that? We hate being out here. We don’t want to be out here, we want to be at our desks working.”



July 2, 2013

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