Luke Elliott-Negri, Chapter President and Graduate Assistant in Sociology, offers his individual take on the vote (earlier he was one of seven Graduate Assistants whose analysis can be found here). You can find all of the pieces we have on the contract so far here.
After 6 years without a contract for CUNY graduate-student workers, faculty—both part and full time—and staff, there is finally an offer on the table. Notwithstanding the notable limitations of the proposed contract, I support ratification.
A subset of Graduate Assistants and Adjuncts in the PSC are advocating no ratification. There is a moral outrage, especially because of the “across the board” raises, which fail to ameliorate the poverty wages of CUNY adjuncts. And yet I believe we need to ratify. Here’s why:
1. Striking is the most powerful tool that any union can wield. Yet even the Transit Workers Union, with it’s immense structural power, wins and loses strikes not just based on internal mobilization but also based on external political positioning.
The recent strike authorization vote indicates that there is energy in our organization for more militant activity. Yet if we want to strike and win, we need to strike for clear moral demands—Free CUNY and Adjunct Parity—not for a couple percentage points more than we currently have on offer. We need to center these demands both because it is the right thing—we should be fighting for adjunct parity and for a CUNY that is free to the working class residents of NYC—but also because those demands will resonate with the majority of city residents. To win a strike, we as an organization need to be acting as a champion of the CUNY system, and not just trying to push above the pattern that every other city union received.
There is work to be done to get the PSC to a point where it truly has these goals at the center and, in part as a consequence, has the capacity to strike offensively. While it is great that 10,000 members voted on strike authorization, another 10,000 + did not vote. And we still have thousands of Agency Fee payers, the bulk of them Adjuncts. We need Adjunct committees on every campus in the system, in order to prepare our organization to center the moral demands that are the precondition for successful militant action on behalf of the CUNY system. If we vote this contract down, we don’t just personally need to be prepared to strike, we need to be confident that we can collectively win an offensive strike against CUNY, the City and State with all of the internal organization and public support that that entails. This chapter is prepared to do the organizing work to help build this capacity, but the fall is frankly too soon.
2. There are gains in the contract. The last MOA from the late aughts does not even use the phrase “Graduate Assistants.” To be quite frank, GAs as a class were simply not on the radar of the PSC bargaining team, even two years ago. One clear-cut gain is health insurance for GC students who continue as adjunct instructors after depositing their dissertations. But whatever the limitations of what we have on offer, the fact that the MOA addresses the GA series is a sign of the power that comes from organizing. We wanted more than we got in this contract, but we have much more than we would have if we did not organize.
3. The bulk of the well-organized membership is ready to settle. This is an ‘industrial’ union, which means that we have many ‘crafts’/interests represented under one tent (Graduate Assistants, Adjunct Faculty, Tenured Faculty and Higher Education Officers, among others). This is a good thing in the long run, but it presents very real tensions in the immediate. By most measures, full time faculty and HEOs are more organized than part time workers (Graduate Assistants and Adjuncts). I spoke to one Assistant to HEO (an APO) who was nervous about the no campaign: “It’s been six years, and my family and I need the raise.”
To be frank, part-timers are less organized in large part because they are underpaid and contingent. But any way you slice it, the part-time workers in this union need to build deeper organization. We simply do not have the capacity yet to assure that our issues are front and center in bargaining.
The Graduate Center chapter is launching an organizing program this fall that expands the scope of our part-time organizing beyond the Graduate Center. When the 13,000 + part-time workers covered by the PSC Collective Bargaining Agreement are organized, campus by campus, the contracts we return will look very different than what we have on offer today.
4. The contract expires in one year. To be quite frank, if this were a five-year contract, a different approach would be in order. The blunt truth is that the contract’s stance on part-time workers is a direct reflection of the power we currently have. I am glad that our pay and working conditions at this moment are not frozen in place for many years. Rather, they are frozen for one year. We immediately need to develop new bargaining priorities and organize around them. We immediately need to assure that there are multiple Graduate Assistants—and more Adjuncts—on the next bargaining team. And we need to push for a more transparent bargaining process. Let’s start this work now.
The GC Chapter is building an organizing program that expands our power as part-timers and a union, that puts us in a position to win and win more—ultimately Free CUNY and Adjunct Parity. November 2017 will be here before we know it. I support ratification—but whether you vote yes or no, let’s get organized.