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PSC Proposal on Graduate Assistants

This went out yesterday (November 7th) after PSC-CUNY bargaining regarding Graduate Assistants; we are reposting it here for those who missed the update.


Dear Graduate Center Colleagues,

At the collective bargaining session this morning, the PSC introduced an important new proposal concerning graduate employees. We are eager to share it with Graduate Assistants and Grad Center faculty, and we hope that it will have your strong support. As a member of the Graduate Center faculty myself, I know how important it is to sustain the best possible conditions for graduate employees, who represent the future of our profession.

The proposal the PSC submitted today is a substantial revision of the union’s proposals on graduate employees included in our original set of demands. It is the result of much internal discussion among the union bargaining team, the Graduate Center Chapter PSC leadership, and the PSC legal and contract enforcement staff. We believe that an update of the sections of the contract on graduate employees is long overdue. Some of the language is completely out of step with current practice and has not been changed since the PSC’s first contract, in 1972. We also believe that a realignment of the workload and compensation for graduate employees is urgently needed, as has been made clear in recent debates over the fifth-year Fellows.

The essence of our proposal is an alignment of the contractual provisions on payment, hours and other terms of employment for graduate employees with the current practice, which changed dramatically with the introduction of larger financial packages starting in 2011.

The proposal seeks to simplify the current range of Graduate Assistant titles and to move almost all graduate employees to the title Graduate Center Fellow. All Graduate Center Fellows, regardless of their year in the program, would have the same workload as current Graduate Assistants B. In addition, the proposal calls for the entire financial package currently provided to graduate assistants to be treated as salary, rather than as a combination of salary and stipend, as it is now for Grad B’s. We propose a new salary schedule for Graduate Center Fellows, with the lowest step at $26,062-the nearest existing salary step to the current starting financial package for Grad B’s. Consolidating graduate employees’ financial packages as salary reflects the original practice embedded in the contract of providing funding to graduate employees through salary.

Our aim is to provide consistent, reliable financial support for graduate employees, together with a workload that allows graduate employees to make progress toward completion of the Ph.D. We also aim to foster a community in which doctoral programs can continue to recruit extraordinary students and make major contributions to the production of new knowledge.

As you will see, the union’s proposals also address other areas, such as the need to include graduate employees’ history of CUNY employment when considering eligibility for certain contractual provisions available to adjuncts. Examples include eligibility to be considered for multi-year adjunct appointments and for paid adjunct professional hours. We also call for the revival of an existing University-PSC committee but with a new purpose: to consider ways to enhance opportunities for full-time CUNY faculty appointments for recipients of the Ph.D. from the Grad Center, especially for graduates from underrepresented groups. And we seek to ensure that graduate assistants who continue to work at CUNY after their fifth year will be granted a tuition waiver.

The first contract negotiated under our union leadership, in 2002, included matching funds to provide tuition waivers for graduate employees. That was the start of a transformation that has seen much wider provision of tuition waivers and a substantial increase in funding support. We believe that the revision of the contract we propose represents the next step.

I am pleased to say that the CUNY management team, which heard our proposal also for the first time today, expressed a willingness to continue the discussion. They took the position that some of our proposals fall outside of the realm of collective bargaining, but they were not closed to our major proposal and expressed interest in some of the other graduate employee demands.

The union bargaining team will create opportunities to discuss the proposal with graduate assistants and Grad Center faculty in the coming weeks. There is considerable detail in the proposal, and also several areas that need further discussion, such as the provisions for Science Fellows. We look forward to that discussion.

The bargaining team is grateful to the graduate employees who joined us as observers this morning and to all of you who have worked to make the Grad Center work. We made it clear to management that our proposals about graduate employees are a priority for the union. The future of academic research depends on graduate employees; there is a profound intellectual and ethical bond between union members who are studying to enter the academic profession and those who are already teaching. We welcome your comments on the proposal and hope that you will join your PSC colleagues in fighting for these provisions as part of a good contract.

In solidarity,

Barbara Bowen

President, PSC

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