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Email to Grad Assistants

Yesterday an email went out to Graduate Assistants (GAs) linking to the analysis written by seven Graduate Center GAs. You can find the text of that email below.

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Dear PSC Graduate Assistant,

At the Delegate Assembly on June 22nd, the PSC executive committee proposed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the tentative contract agreed to by our negotiation team and CUNY management. This agreement comes after a yearlong escalation in our confrontation with CUNY management and Governor Cuomo, culminating in a 92 percent vote by our union members to authorize a strike if negotiations did not progress. The recommendation of the MOA for ratification by our membership was approved by delegates, 111 to 11. A healthy debate occurred at the DA, with a variety of arguments for and against voting to take the tentative contract agreement to membership. These disagreements have also been reflected in the Graduate Center chapter delegates: one (out of four) voted against the executive committee’s proposal.

We want everyone to be familiar with the contents of the MOA, both what we have gained in this round of bargaining but also what remains to be won. While the Executive Council of the GC Chapter recommends ratification, we want to encourage and facilitate the fullest possible discussion about the gains and losses therein. We have updated our website with a detailed breakdown of the MOA, and will post more member analyses going forward.

After five years without a contract, CUNY management offered an outrageous 6%, including retroactive pay at the end of last year. The 10.41% compounded retroactive wage increases we have won – thanks in large part to our effective strike authorization campaign – will be applied across-the-board for all titles in our bargaining unit. We expect these payments to be sent out this year. On top of these payments, there is a ratification bonus of up to $1000. Due to the growth and activity in our chapter this past year, Graduate Assistant issues are addressed in the MOA. We will receive a $750 (GA A, B & C) or $500 bonus (GA D), keep our health benefits when moving to adjunct status, and most likely get retroactive pay. However, we cannot guarantee the latter as, in the past, the GC cut our stipends when wages rose. Though the fight of GA members forced this issue onto the negotiating table, and the PSC leadership assures us that there will be no more stipend cuts, we were unsuccessful in getting concrete contractual language to this effect. This remains a task for the future.

This agreement on retroactive salary increases will surely taste bittersweet for many. On the one hand, after 6 years without a raise, CUNY management has been forced to compensate us more fairly for the work we have done year in and year out. On the other the hand, our salary increases still lag behind inflation and ultimately exacerbate CUNY’s two-tiered faculty system.

Though the wage package is weaker than we want, the agreement offers the potential for progress on a key issue for our union: adjunct security. Long-term adjuncts will become eligible for three-year appointments during a five-year pilot program. Yet our work is far from done. This gain is a contingent one that can be diluted and undermined by management. Our fight has made this gain possible and now we must fight to make this program permanent, and ultimately to expand it in a way that eliminates contingency altogether.

Even with the organizing we have started to do this past year, management still has the upper hand and austerity remains the order of the day among the political and economic elite. Our chapter made an impressive stride forward, signing up hundreds of fee payers as union members, developing a strong committee structure out of the Strike Authorization Vote, and holding Chase Robinson’s feet to the fire throughout a year of disastrous budget cuts. But management remains as committed as ever to cheapening the value of our labor and exploiting our insecurity in a neoliberal CUNY. Given that we can’t change this reality with one labor management meeting or one round of negotiations, we have to evaluate the current contract in the context of our longer project to build power as CUNY workers.

Though we don’t expect all members to agree with our recommendation for ratification, we are certainly in a better position now because of our success in building power as a chapter and a union. The lesson to draw from this battle is not that this is the best we can ever get but that when we organize ourselves we can win more. The MOA, on the heels of our strike authorization vote, is evidence that more engagement brings better outcomes. Before the union can start winning even more at the negotiation table, we must consolidate what we have gained as a chapter organization this past year. To this end, we have formed committees on new member organizing, contract demands and enforcement, legislative work & adjunct organizing beyond the GC. We will need to extend this in the coming year to have any chance of effectively fighting on the range of issues our members are facing at the Graduate Center, Murphy Institute, School of Professional Studies, the Journalism School, the School of Public Health, Macaulay Honors College and beyond. However you end up voting, we hope you join us in that fight.

Luke Elliott-Negri
Chapter Chair

Tahir Butt
Alternate Delegate

Jeremy Sawyer
Alternate Delegate

Marc Kagan
Grievance Counselor

Chloe Asselin
Part Time Liaison

Anh Tran
Graduate Assistant B

Travis Sweatte
Graduate Assistant B


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