The Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) Graduate Center campus at CUNY, located adjacent to City College in Harlem, is supposed to be a state-of-the-art building, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments. It was part of the highest value project ever undertaken by the construction and financing authority DASNY. Its Clean Room and labs are extremely well resourced, with cutting-edge equipment for nanoscience and other research.
However, labor conditions at the ASRC do not match these state-of-the-art research conditions. Workers at the ASRC oftentimes work long hours making affordable access to food imperative to their ability to continue to do science. However many workers we have spoken to have described their struggles to do something as simple as get lunch.
Unacceptable Food Options on Campus
Students, faculty and staff at the ASRC can get snacks, cold sandwiches and preparable food like ramen by going to the Café on the bottom floor. They can do this when the cafe is properly stocked, but PSC has found that there are no options besides frozen meals available most days.
Nutritious hot meals are not readily available, and the coffee bar in the cafe has been broken for weeks, since March. Basic utensils like forks and spoons are frequently nowhere to be found.
The PSC has spoken to many STEM workers who say they have simply skipped meals during the day because of the lack of food on campus. Some bring food from home and microwave it in its building’s kitchenettes, two of which have been converted to dual use kitchenettes and office spaces graduate students or the ASRC’s Sensor Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) Program office.
Putting the Onus on Workers to Find Food
ASRC workers are told that, during lunch break they may walk nearly 20 minutes round-trip to similarly understocked cafes located across CCNY’s campus, or to “Farmer’s Fridge” vending machines which we found to be nearly completely out-of-stock upon our visit.
For hot food, ASRC workers are told to make use of CCNY’s cafeteria, located in the North Academic Center (NAC) a similar 20 minute round trip walk away from the ASRC. At the time of our visit at only 11:30 am, stock at the cafeteria was reduced to exactly 6 pieces of chicken, some rice, and a handful of meatballs, some pasta, and other sides taking up only a portion of the relatively large serving area – an unreasonably small amount of food for a cafeteria claiming to serve not only the ASRC community, but the 10,000+ undergraduates in attendance at CCNY. The small cafeteria was staffed by exactly one individual serving food and one person to ring us up. Still, this author found the cafeteria to be quite steeply priced at $11.95 for one piece of chicken, some yellow rice, and 4 broccoli florets on this occasion.
Off campus, the dining situation isn’t much better. The closest options to the ASRC are down a steep hill (which in itself poses issues around accessibility), at two delis. The first deli on two occasions has given this author food poisoning, and the second, seemingly aware of its position as the only real quick dining option anywhere near the ASRC, charges exorbitant prices for basic sandwiches ($11.50 for cold cut turkey with cheese on a roll).
More affordable dining options available to students include generally unhealthy options such as pizza and the on-campus halal truck – each a similar distance from the ASRC to the NAC. Healthier dining options do exist off-campus a bit further away, but charge somewhere in the $15 range for a lunch.
For these reasons and others, many faculty and staff at the ASRC opt to get their lunch delivered to them rather than go outside for lunch. This of course is not an economically sound option for students at the ASRC whose stipends are currently over $20k below a livable wage in New York City. Ideally, ASRC student workers should be able to grab a quick, affordable, healthy lunch so they can get back to actually doing the work that keeps the CUNY ASRC running.
In one of the most expensive buildings in CUNY’s system, why is management not advocating for adequate hot food options on campus or even ensuring consistently stocked, healthy prepared meals?
Excessively Hot Temperatures at the ASRC
Furthermore, workers at the ASRC were recently in the building without central cooling while temperatures in April reached 90 degrees. The ASRC is covered by a glass wrap, and workers were unable to lower blinds in their individual offices or open windows. While management provided fans and updates on temperatures, most workers, confused about a temperature-based remote work policy, remained at the campus to work in these unsafe and unreasonable temperatures.
The cooling system is now up and running again, but because of the system’s logistics and timing, there is no way to guarantee the building will not reach similarly high temperatures again in the fall.
At a recent Labor-Management meeting, President Robin Garrell refused to negotiate with the PSC around a policy that would allow workers to be sent home when temperature limits were exceeded. She said it was a supervisor’s prerogative regarding whether workers can leave campus.
This is an unacceptable state of conditions for workers and students, who are being treated as if their physical needs are irrelevant to the work they perform for CUNY. The PSC stands against such conditions, and urges any at the ASRC with questions or need for assistance to approach the union in person or via email (email@example.com).
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