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PSC 2017/ CUNY 2017: Five Steps Toward Being Ready for the Next Contract Fight

PSC 2017/ CUNY 2017

Five Steps Toward Being Ready for the Next Contract Fight

Luke Elliott-Negri



When you organize in the PSC, you eventually hear these two statements: “PSC is an adjunct union.” And: “PSC doesn’t do anything for adjuncts.” The new contract is settled and depending on your perspective it has “unprecedented” gains for adjuncts (in the form of 3-year appointments for those who are long-serving), or it is so bad that the PSC should be decertified and replaced with an adjunct-only organization (a stance that I can only characterize as either conservative or outright anti-union, however valid the substantive concerns may be). You can look elsewhere for assessments of the contract. And whatever you may think of the new contract, the next year will involve fights around implementation, for full-time faculty, part-time faculty and HEOs. But here, I am focused on 2017.

Whether you’re in a tenured post or you’re struggling to pay rent as an adjunct, “the future of CUNY” and “the future of the tenure system” are abstract concepts. Let’s make them concrete. The School of Professional Studies—part of the GC chapter where I am Chair—in the words of one Dean, “heavily utilizes adjunct labor.” In practical terms, this means that a student can earn a CUNY degree never having met a tenured professor. Think about this for a moment. The future of the tenure system is here—or at least one possible version of that future, in which the tenure system has been profoundly undermined. It is here, I hope, to motivate us to organize—to build a different future.

One way to understand the PSC contract is that there is one pot of money and for every dime one group gets, a dime is taken away from another. In this view, the fight to end adjunctification would be a hit to the tenured professor, higher education officers, the college laboratory technicians & the other series in our bargaining unit. But if we are serious about preserving the tenure system – or put differently, if we want to assure security for all academic laborers – than there is a collective interest in all of us working together to end the two-tier labor system at CUNY. There is simply no way of fighting for the future of job security—and in my view, for free, high quality education at CUNY—without also fighting to end the two-tiered labor system.

Our strike authorization vote last semester was powerful, but frankly, we were not ready for such an action. 10,000 members participated, but our unit covers more than 20,000. We must start a virtuous cycle, whereby increasing unity leads to more power to improve our contract for the most vulnerable, and those improvements lead to more unity. And then, if we are able to make serious steps toward adjunct job security and pay parity, our leverage with respect to CUNY Management, the City and the State, will grow. This was one lesson from Jonathan Karpf of the California Faculty Association when he visited us recently. If we are able to erode and ultimately break the two-tier labor system, we will be a truly unified bargaining unit. Our next strike authorization vote will be a more sincere threat and will – if we position ourselves well politically & ally with students and their families – bring in much more money to the CUNY system. If we truly want to fight for free, high quality public education, we need a unified bargaining unit, without radical disparities in pay or job protections.

The devil is in the details when we talk about “parity” or “ending the two-tiered labor system.” (I can imagine some combination of seniority, conversion lines for adjuncts and negotiated caps on the number of adjunct classes/campus—but this is a plan that we need to think through collectively.) That the devil is in the details, however, is all the more reason why our union needs to face this question squarely and directly. Here are five things we can do to move forward this conversation in advance of the 2017 contract fight.

  1. Fight like hell to defend the contract we do have. We need a much stronger contract for adjuncts and lecturers. But we have a contract in front of us, and we must defend its provisions. Let’s be sure that all eligible adjuncts receive 3-year appointments. Let’s be sure that no one is getting hired “off contract” (We’ve found members at Baruch getting hired to grade at a pitiful $10/hour.). Let’s vigorously implement the HEO assignment differentials. Let’s get teaching hours reduced without increased class size or deeper adjunctification. In short, let’s be sure that the contract we do have is enforced, even as we work to make the next one better.
  1. Talk about preserving tenure and achieving parity publicly in every chapter. Most chapters will be hosting chapter meetings this fall. Preserving tenure through achieving parity must be on the agenda – 2017 is around the corner, and we must start having these conversations collectively, now.
  1. Build adjunct committees on every campus. We must talk about parity and security in chapter meetings and other public settings, but part-timers also need to meet as a group, campus by campus, to think through the details of what they want to see in 2017. Campus-based committees are essential to this process, and will ideally get linked together in a cross-campus adjunct council (presumably through First Fridays). At the same time we must be sure that all Agency Fee payers become members. At the Graduate Center, we have nearly tripled our membership numbers in the past two years. We can get to 90% adjunct membership, but we have to do the work!
  1. Full-timers (faculty and cross-campus members) should have their own conversations about parity, and how such a demand meshes with their more immediate priorities. We must not kid ourselves that making serious steps toward pay parity is a huge, collective decision for our union. Though it is in the long-term interests of many full-timers to break the two-tier system, it may not be perceived as being in their short-term interests. And more importantly, we must develop the conviction as a union that we need to preserve and expand job security in higher education, even if as individuals, some of us already have it. How does this long-term need mesh or fail to mesh with the short-term priorities of full-timers? Full-time members must have these conversations together. What is the future of the tenure system?
  1. Keep our eyes on the prize. Whether full or part-time, with job security or without, all PSC members want to see CUNY fully funded. There has been a decades-long disinvestment in CUNY that we, as yet, have not been able to reverse. If want to see free, high quality public education for all of New York City’s working class, then we must work together to end the erosion of pay and job security for all CUNY jobs. Our moral claim about adjunct parity is resonant, and is inextricably linked to our moral claim about a free and fully funded CUNY. When we as PSC members act as champions of the CUNY system and of those in our ranks who are underpaid and lack meaningful job security, then we are both doing what is right, and we are positioning ourselves politically to make broadly resonant moral claims in the city and the state.

Luke Elliott-Negri, Chapter Chair


CFA Event with Jonathan Karpf: Follow-Up

Dear PSC Members –

On September 22-23, 2016, the Graduate Center chapter of the PSC along with six other PSC chapters (Bronx Community College, LaGuardia College, City College, Brooklyn College, and College of Staten Island), the First Fridays Committee and the Adjunct Project, organized a public meeting and workshop series entitled “Contingent Labor in a Time of Austerity.” We invited an adjunct organizer from the California Faculty Association, Jonathan Karpf, to speak on how the California Faculty Association won contractual language for pay parity and job security for lecturers (the CSU designation for all non-tenure track faculty) in the California State University system.

At the public meeting, Jonathan described how the CFA mobilized mass demonstrations to coincide with collective bargaining, which brought together lecturers, tenure-line faculty, and students to flex the muscles of organized labor in the CSU system. Lecturers built solidarity with tenure-line faculty through an “inside/outside strategy:” lecturers first organized themselves, then gained the respect of tenure-line faculty by serving in indispensable roles such as leading informational workshops on the contract and union pension plan. Jonathan highlighted the importance of working with students to ensure that administrators do not attempt to divide and conquer by pitting student tuitions against faculty pay. In fact, CFA employs two full-time staff organizers who oversee a robust student internship program. Many students who participated in this program have gone on to become labor organizers. Furthermore, the full-time staffers have given much-needed material support to ongoing adjunct organizing efforts. CFA also found it effective to focus on adjunct job security as the basis upon which other demands for parity and equity could be made. Jonathan’s talk led to a lively discussion, and we could feel a sense of forward momentum in the room.

The workshops were a natural outgrowth of the insights we gained from the CFA struggle, adapted for the CUNY and New York City-specific context. The activists who attended these workshops shared their ideas for building adjunct power in the CUNY system, which we documented in a list of priorities and strategies that to help center our work for the coming years. The workshops also facilitated cross-campus coordination by bringing in leaders from the different colleges into face-to-face contact to discuss current strategies and collectively craft plans for future work. The strategies document created at the workshops accompanies this report, along with Jonathan’s Powerpoint presentation, which highlights the timeline of the CFA struggle, the tactics they employed, and the contract that they won out of their struggle for adjunct parity and job security. We hope union members and our allies will find these resources useful for adjunct-oriented organizing on CUNY campuses and beyond.

Anh Tran

Graduate Center PSC Adjunct Organizing Committee

Travis Sweatte

Graduate Center PSC Solidarity Committee

An Update from the Legislative Committee

As the November elections loom, the chapter’s Legislative Committee would like to bring your attention to a few PSC-wide initiatives that you might be unaware of.

Monday, September 26th, the PSC will be teaming up with Fight For $15 to rally at Hofstra before the first Presidential Debate. The candidates need to know that exploited workers will not, and cannot, take it any more! Buses leave Manhattan at 3pm, but you should plan on being at the meetup at 2:30pm. More details and bus RSVP instructions can be found here.

Second, members who need to register to vote, or have students, friends, relatives, etc., who need to register to vote, must do so by October 14th. You can find the voter registration form here–share it widely! CUNY actively encourages students to sign up to vote, so even promoting registration on campuses or in class should not bring you into any conflict with the administration.

Next, our parent union, NYSUT, is encouraging everyone to sign up for email/text reminders for voters. Interested? You can find out how to sign up here. [Note: you will need your Member ID# to successfully sign up.]

Finally, phone banking will be going on every Wednesday evening until the November 8th election. Let us know at psccunygc@gmail.com if you plan on attending. Click on each date for event details.

Contingent Labor in a Time of Austerity

Contingent Labor in a Time of Austerity: A Discussion with California Adjunct Organizer Jonathan Karpf and PSC Adjunct Leaders

What can we learn from other academic unions about transforming the conditions of contingent workers? Following the PSC’s hard-fought struggle after six years to secure a contract, the question of our next steps looms large. In this time of austerity, when academic workers face an administration and government intent on making cuts to public education, it is especially important for workers across the country and beyond to share their knowledge and experiences of both victories and setbacks.

Lecturer Jonathan Karpf of the California Faculty Association (CFA) will join graduate employee and adjunct activists from CUNY to discuss his experience organizing part-time, contingent labor and the CFA’s efforts to win pay parity for adjuncts in their contract bargaining. The event is sponsored by the PSC chapters at: City College, LaGuardia Community College, Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island, Bronx Community College, and the Graduate Center; plus the CUNY Adjunct Project and the PSC First Friday Committee.

This event is open to all who are interested in fighting to improve the conditions of the most vulnerable and exploited segment of the academic labor force. It will be hosted in at the Graduate Center, room 5414.

You can see and share our Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/572285172958110/

Phone Banking

Hello electorate,

The September 13th NYS Primary is (literally) around the corner – as you probably know, our allies in the Senate and Assembly were critical in defending CUNY’s budget and pushing for funding that made our contract settlement possible. Now we need to return them to office and help elect new legislators who will be strong advocates for CUNY, our union, and students.

Six candidates in New York City are in primary elections where a strong PSC turnout could make the difference:  Pam Harris (AD 46), Latrice Walker (AD 55), Paul Newell (AD 65), Victor Pichardo (AD 86), Gustavo Rivera (SD 33) and Robert Jackson (SD 31).

Our chapter will be phone banking on Monday, September 12th, 6:30pm – 8:30pm in the Political Science lounge (room 5200). Bring a laptop, cell-phone, and headphones (with a mic). Last minute calls can have a big impact on voter turnout, so we encourage you to come and support your union electorally!

-Rosa Squillacote, Legislative and Elections Committee

P.S. You can see our Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1583856371915756/

Upcoming Meetings: New Members and HEOs

Two upcoming meetings will be of interest to many PSC members in our community.

First, on September 9th at 12:30pm, we will have a New Member Orientation. Any new member is welcome to attend!

The next one for HEOs specifically, and is September 13th at 12:30pm, and it will be on Contract Implementation. Any HEO-series member is encouraged to come learn more.

For both meetings we would appreciate an RSVP, so let Sam know if you can attend.

Graduate Center Convocation & New Student Orientation

Tomorrow, August 23rd, is the Graduate Center’s Convocation and New Student Orientation. This year one of the new student workshops will be “Your Rights as an Academic Worker in the PSC,” from 2:30-3:30pm, in room C198*. Chapter members Chloe Asselin and Marc Kagan will be facilitating a discussion on worker rights here at the GC, where most entering PhD students are immediately eligible to be members of the Professional Staff Congress (the union that covers faculty, both full-time and contingent, and staff at CUNY).

Our PSC chapter will also have a table in the Concourse level throughout the day’s activities (starting at around 10am), so stop by, sign your union card, meet your fellow Graduate Center PSCers, and learn more about getting involved with our chapter and the PSC more generally!

Finally, save the date for our chapter’s September 9th New Member Orientation, from 12:30-2:30pm. More details to come.


*New students: C means “Concourse” when in front of a GC room number, so if you see a room listed like our room for tomorrow it means you need to go down to the basement level.

Contract Ratification

Below is the text from the emailed announcement that proposed contract with CUNY has been ratified by PSC members:



I’m proud to announce that the 25,000 faculty and professional staff represented by PSC will receive long-overdue raises because an overwhelming 94 percent majority of PSC members voted to ratify the new PSC-CUNY contract.

The agreement provides 10.41 percent in compounded salary increases over a period of slightly more than seven years, from October 20, 2010 through November 30, 2017. The raises will be retroactive to April 20, 2012 and will be paid to employees who worked at CUNY between then and now even if they have retired or left CUNY. The contract includes more than three times the back pay originally offered by CUNY, won because PSC members stood up to management and to Albany. (Use this online tool to estimate your retroactive pay.)

It took a militant, public campaign and strike authorization vote to win the salary increases. At the same time, the campaign built the leverage needed to negotiate breakthrough provisions on adjunct job security, full-time faculty workload, and other gains that will improve teaching and learning conditions at CUNY. It also includes a signing bonus for current employees.

A record-breaking 72 percent of eligible voters participated in the contract ratification vote. The level of engagement is unprecedented in PSC ratification votes; it is a testament to our shared vision of a better university and evidence of your commitment to member-to-member organizing.

The contract consolidates gains won by the union between the expiration of the last contract in 2010 and the end of the most recent negotiations–including adjunct health insurance on the NYC plan, paid parental leave, and increased funding for faculty research grants. It also introduces a new provision for multi-year appointments for eligible teaching adjuncts at CUNY. The health insurance and multi-year appointments represent major steps toward greater professionalism and equity in the treatment of adjuncts, providing increased stability for academic departments and guaranteed income and accrued sick days for adjuncts on three-year appointments. More than 86  percent of adjunct faculty who took part in the ratification vote voted “yes.”

In addition, the full-time faculty now have a contractual commitment and a timetable to restructure the teaching load to ensure that they have the time to mentor students and to conduct research. Professional staff in “non-promotional” HEO titles have gained opportunities for advances in pay and title.

Thank you for organizing, turning out to dozens of rallies, attending news conferences and lobby days, and most fundamentally, thank you for sticking together during this very difficult fight. I also want to offer my sincere thanks to the other PSC officers and the union staff, without whose unwavering support and work this contract would not have been possible. There is much more to do to make CUNY the university that its students, faculty and professional staff deserve, but because of your activism, the PSC is well positioned to continue this important work.

In solidarity,

Barbara Bowen

PSC President

Greetings, HEOs!

Andrea Ades Vásquez is the Managing Director of the Graduate Center’s New Media Lab, as well as Associate Director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning. She is the HEO chapter chair; this is her letter to HEOs on the contract. You can see our Proposed Contract Discussion page for more.



I hope that you are enjoying the start of summer and are able to take some well-earned vacation time!

I write as the newly elected chair of the HEO chapter of the Professional Staff Congress. I am also pleased to have served as one of the HEOs on the bargaining team for this contact (along with Iris DeLutro, Vice President for cross-campus units).


Ordinarily, I would simply send a message of greetings and enthusiasm for the work I will be doing with HEOs in the coming years. Over the past several months I was excited to have visited over a dozen campuses but they were not ordinary “getting to know you” visits. As you well know, we were in the midst of an epic fight to finally get a good contract! I spoke and listened to hundreds of HEOs as well as members of all PSC constituencies. As a higher education officer since 2000, I have never witnessed such solidarity, organization, and militancy before. From a mass meeting of over 100 HEOs at LaGuardia to the strike authorization drive at the Graduate Center, to the inclusive participatory meeting at Medgar Evers, to our vocal participation at the delegate assembly, HEOs have been there every step of the way!


Because of the collective mass actions of PSC members, we now have a contract in hand to ratify! I have heard from so many HEOs about how delighted they are that we won good retroactive pay, “non-economic” advances, and no give-backs. While there were times we fought alongside CUNY to increase the state’s funding for the university, we also had to fight against the administration’s vision for CUNY. We certainly did not get all that we wanted or deserve. However, we achieved raises at the level of other city employees and made other significant advances. And along the way, we built tremendous union power. You may have heard some PSC adjunct members urging a “no” vote because we were not able to close the wide gap between full time and part time salaries. It is unconscionable that CUNY refuses to address this despite years of struggle. Like many of you, I went to many a demonstration and many a trip to Albany demanding that CUNY and the City take responsibility for adjunct health care. We finally did win that early in this round of bargaining. Over 2,000 adjuncts benefit from that and more stand to benefit from the longer appointments we also won. While we did not get the funds from Albany or from CUNY to raise salaries sufficiently, we did build the political will to continue the fight for further improvements for all members as we move ahead. Your “YES” vote allows us to do this!


In my current position in the HEO series since 2000, I often hear dismay over not being able to rise in title or salary despite years of excellent work for the university. In addition to the gains that will benefit all PSCers, in this round of negotiations we made structural changes to the process of reclassification and also created a new path to increased salaries. Until now, any change in the volume of work you are assigned could not be considered when applying for reclassification to a higher title. Now it can, recognizing that a major increase in the amount of work you do can transform the job you do. Also, until now, many HEO Associates were ineligible for reclassification if a full HEO already worked in the office or department. That will no longer be the case. We will also be using newly-constituted labor-management committees to accept applications for a $2,500 addition to the base pay for HEOs at the top step for at least one year (except those already in the top title), who demonstrate their expanded responsibilities and excellent performance. The final decision on adding the $2500 will ultimately be up to management (via the HEO screening committee), but for the first time we have an opportunity to increase our salaries rather than being forever stuck at the top step. Assuring proper implementation will take diligence on our part but we will pursue this until these changes are made and members can fully benefit from these advances.


It has already been extremely exciting to work with a new cohort of HEO delegates from all campuses. We plan to keep up the momentum we have built over the past couple of years and enforce this contract and get ready for the next one! Vote YES and let us know if you would like to join a committee of HEOs on your own campus to strengthen the chapter and the union.

In solidarity,

Andrea Ades Vásquez,

HEO Chapter Chair

Why I’m Voting Yes

Lizzie Eisenberg is a PhD student in Political Science and Guest Lecturer in Urban Studies at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. See our Proposed Contract Discussion page for more on this subject.


This contract has shortcomings. I have been a graduate student for 6 years. I have been a Graduate Assistant B, a Teaching Assistant, and an adjunct. I have taught regular courses sometimes with 120 students in a semester, and I have taught Masters level courses where the level of involvement and attention needed is very high. I have carried this teaching load while neglecting my own graduate studies because I have needed the money, and I have borrowed more money than I can imagine paying back. I know that this is not an unusual situation. In fact, in our school—it’s par. This contract is not going to change my life. But I still plan on voting to ratify it.

I’m not prepared to reject a contract that can provide at least some help to people who have been struggling for far too long because we haven’t been able to make a deal. We have to work harder for the next contract. We haven’t been organized enough to get the leverage we need for the gains that we want, both as a union and as a chapter. Truthfully, we still have plenty of work to do as a chapter and it is work I am ready for.

The Graduate Center chapter of the PSC is the only chapter in which full-time faculty do not make up the majority of eligible members. That makes our chapter a possible vehicle to place issues affecting more vulnerable PSC members front and center. For this reason, it is especially important that we build a chapter that is so organized, so informed, and so tough, that it can be a powerful advocate within the union as well as a resource that strengthens the union in its effort to support members earning poverty wages.

All of this is to say, organizing the rank-and-file in such a way that produces real power is hard work and it’s crucial. Helping people to understand why this contract has problems is crucial too. I certainly am no apologist for its failures.

However- I do recognize that if we vote this contract down, there are no good outcomes. A strike under current conditions would not be effective for us, our students, and our organization. Returning to the bargaining table weakened by internal dissent will not yield a better deal for us. The concerns and shortcomings in this deal outlined by groups opposed to it are serious. The efforts of those who are doing the legwork to explain these shortcomings are communicating issues that many of us feel and will continue to feel. Even so, the inadequacies of this contract are not a reason to reject it. These inadequacies are a call to increase our efforts, organization, and pragmatism.

I hope many of you will join the efforts to increase the power of the GC chapter- because I now have, and I think we can achieve a lot.


Lizzie Eisenberg

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