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Our Union, Our Contract: Results

From August 24 to September 1, over 600 Graduate Center PhD students voted to decide which issues to prioritize in the upcoming PSC-CUNY contract negotiations. Below are the results, followed by a description of the process.

Total Ballots Cast: 613 (approximately 200 online, 400 in person)

 Write-in Issues

  • The most popular write-in issue was: Extend health insurance to all PhD students, whether or not they have GA appointments (4 submissions).
  • Other issues included: Relax the 9/6 rule for adjuncts; Additional pay for class overtallies; Reduce student fees; Expand childcare; Improve health and vision plans for GAs and adjuncts; Reduce racial disparities at all faculty levels; Better enforce GA workload limits; Racism toward students on the part of faculty; Raise adjunct pay to $10,000 per course; Create paid office hour for teaching fellows who also teach as adjuncts; Create centralized CUNY adjunct job listings.

Voter Breakdown

  • 72.5% were Graduate Assistants
  • 27.5% were PhD students without GA appointments
  • In terms of ballots cast, the top departments were:
    • Sociology (55)
    • Political Science (41)
    • Psychology (38)
    • Anthropology (37)
    • English (35)
    • Art History (31)
    • History (29)
    • Comp Lit, Music (28)
    • Biology (27)
    • Urban Ed, Physics (23)

About the Process

The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) is the labor union representing some 27,000 CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. The pay, benefits, and work conditions of most PhD students are determined by a contract that the PSC negotiates with the CUNY administration, New York City, and New York State. The contract expires this November and will be renegotiated in the coming months.

To identify issue priorities for the upcoming contract, the PSC established advisory committees for various positions in the union, including full-time faculty, Higher Education Offices (HEOs), adjuncts, and Graduate Assistants. Volunteers who joined the Graduate Assistant contract advisory committee decided that all PhD students should have a say in identifying which issues to prioritize. Looking to democratic processes such as participatory budgeting, the advisory committee developed a ballot of 19 issues relevant to PhD students and held a week-long vote at the start of the semester.

The results have been submitted to the PSC Bargaining Team to convey the priorities of GC PhD student workers. The Graduate Assistant advisory committee has also worked to turn the top issues into more concrete contract demands to share with the Bargaining Team.

What’s next? The Bargaining Team will review the outcomes from this GC vote, but also from the HEO, adjunct, and other advisory committees. Then it will propose an aggregate list of demands to the PSC-wide Delegate Assembly, the union’s governing body. The Delegate Assembly will discuss and determine the final list of demands at its October 19 meeting. All PSC members are welcome to attend. After that comes the bargaining between the union and the CUNY administration. We’ll need to keep up the pressure to win our demands, so please be ready! To join the contract committee at the GC, please email lukeelliottnegri@gmail.com.

Note: All PhD students enrolled at the Graduate Center were eligible to vote in this process. The Graduate Assistant contract advisory committee made this decision because GC PhD students often move between roles during their programs and nearly all are at some point affected by the PSC-CUNY contract. Please note, however, that only CUNY employees in the bargaining unit can become PSC members, and that only members can participate in formal union decisions, such as PSC elections and strike authorization votes. If you are an adjunct or Graduate Assistant but have not yet become a PSC member, be sure to sign a union card or fill out the online membership form!

September 15th EC Meeting Minutes

Minutes from chapter’s Executive Committee Meeting – 9/15/17

  • Recap one-stop & GA ballot tabling – 5 min
    • Strong showing & results indicate need to prioritize GA issues like never before
    • Even new students are aware that adjunctification is a top issue
  • Other contract campaign updates & steps forward – 25 min
    • All advisory groups have condensed a set of demands → Barbara Bowen & bargaining team will review & propose final list for EC then DA to vote on
    • This bargaining process is more constrained on time than last one because last team had 2 years to refine demands
    • Per EC timeline, we’d reach out to CUNY mgmt to start negotiations exactly when contract expires
    • Reportbacks from BT? At each meeting, the BT determines what info can be reported on → will affect how much Luke can share with GA membership at monthly accountability “forums”
    • Shouldn’t PSC be thinking strategies DURING process of constituting demands rather than waiting to strategize after demands are finalized?
  • Chapter communications – 5 min
    • Need website content! Submit tabling results, events, pictures, reportbacks
    • Everyone needs to share events with ALL your PSC friends
    • Digital signage campaign to introduce delegates, “did you know” to raise profile of the PSC, success stories PLUS advertise upcoming meetings
      • EC members need to submit headshot (in front of recognizable spots around bldg) & quote to Nina
    • Remember to submit reimbursement forms!
    • Remember to send digital announcements to affiliate campuses!
    • Come up with a fancy button related to demands (one specific to GAs?)
    • Start using adjunct infographic
  • Committees update – 5 min
    • Please read the minutes from the last stewards mtg on your own time
    • Committees can ask for any money as necessary & apply for DSC funds
    • HEO steering committee has met, is tabling regularly & focusing on recommitment cards, will visit ASRC to get sign-ups
  • MOE & legislative work – 20 min
    • For discussion, please read Rosa’s proposal for campaigning around CUNY funding
    • Political context unfavorable to unions so NYS constitutional convention is dangerous at this moment
      • Delegates chosen by senate districts, which over-represents upstate & favors GOP
      • Right wing & corp interests are well prepared for convention
      • Messaging from labor has flawed framing as “this is bad for unions” rather than “bad for you specifically”
      • Cuomo won’t sign MOE → must draw attention to his continued disinvestment in CUNY & Excelsior Scholarship
      • At risk: Adirondack Reserve, pensions
      • Constitution can be amended w/o convention
    • Should be introduced at chapter meeting (what is MOE & how to get involved)
    • Look for release of MOE teaching toolkit
    • DSA hosting debate on constitutional convention
    • Big push last year for MOE that Cuomo also didn’t sign → how to make this year different? Legislative committee developing more outward-facing campaign w/ bad press on Cuomo & students; Cuomo has pretended to care about higher ed so can be attacked for hypocrisy
    • MOE passing will save CUNY money that can be rolled into contract w/ PSC
    • Call MOE by a different name (ex. Cuomo Fund CUNY)
  • Chapter meeting prep – 20 min
    • Next chapter meeting will be about strategies after BT finalizes demands
    • Barbara Bowen requested to come speak about the contract, Luke will confirm that this is still the case
  • Labor management prep – 10 min – Marc
    • Items will be presented at chapter meeting for feedback

September Chapter Meeting

Please RSVP to our first chapter meeting of the new school year on Tuesday, September 19th, 12:30pm in the Skylight room. You can let us know you’re attending on Facebook or by emailing Sam.

See you then!

TIAA Retirement Consultant

You can make an appointment to speak with the Graduate Center’s TIAA representative about your retirement during five on-campus visits this Fall semester. RSVP at www.TIAA.org/schedulenow

Graduate Assistant Bargaining Priorities

Our union contract expires this semester, so it’s time to weigh in on our priorities for the coming round of bargaining!

The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) is the labor union representing some 27,000 CUNY faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. The pay, benefits, and work conditions of most PhD students are determined by a contract that the PSC negotiates with the CUNY administration, New York City, and New York State.

The Graduate Assistant contract advisory committee of the PSC wants you to help set priorities for bargaining. In addition to salary increases, what do you want to see in the next contract? Better benefits? Better training and working conditions?

Take just a few minutes to vote here before September 1, to have your say in our contract fight.

If you have any questions activists will be in the GC lobby from 11am-5pm next week – stop by!

August 2nd EC Meeting Minutes

Minutes from chapter’s Executive Committee Meeting – 8/2/17

  • Finalize resolutions process (15 min)
    • Will be proposed to Sept chapter meeting
    • Made three revisions:
      • “Resolutions will pass upon majority vote. Vote shall be conducted within the state meeting time.”
        • Discussed whether there should be an informal quorum (official quorum is 10%, which we rarely meet). But any number seems arbitrary (50? 100?) and does not ensure that decisions made at meeting are representative of entire membership. One of the problems from the April meeting was that by the time the resolution came to a vote, most people had left. If votes must be held during the stated meeting time, we can at least ensure that most attendees are voting.
        • Because most votes will never reach official quorum, there’s point 10: “If the chapter meeting does not reach quorum, the resolution should be edited to replace all instances of “the GC chapter” with “members of the chapter assembled” at that particular meeting, and the edited resolution will still be discussed and voted upon.”
      • “Resolutions which break city, state, and/or federal laws shall be directed to the PSC Delegate Assembly instead of the Graduate Center chapter.”
      • “Chapter members, chapter committees, and the chapter Executive Committee will work to improve this process as needed.”
  • Mini training for beginning of the year department visits (15 min)
    • If you’ve signed up to take a department at the GC, contact that department’s APO by the end of this week. Ask if there is an orientation where you could present. And if the department hasn’t had any PSC contact yet, also try to schedule a general session not just for new students but for all
  • Legislative update (10 min)
    • Maintenance of Effort Bill; passed the senate and house in NYS; gives CUNY money that is owed to it (not additional funding); like a cost of living adjustment; Cuomo normally does not sign it; up in November; come up with educational material to distribute at campuses, via student associations, etc.; pickets and protests outside of Cuomo’s office; legislative committee was happy with amount of effort our campus put in last fall, good way to show our chops within the union
    • Need a one-pager for what the campaign would look like; Luke can take to chapter chair’s meeting
    • Cuomo was responsive about MTA stuff, esp via social media
    • Possibility to do good work of education around this issue; spotlight the role of Cuomo in CUNY which will be important for 7K and contract campaign; people need to know that he’s our boss
  • Contract strategy for the semester (20 min)
    • How to work with other campuses in our chapter?
    • How to work with full timers? (What about Janus?)
    • How to engage broader union strategy?
      • CUNY Rising? How do we give it life among membership on the campuses
    • Shouldn’t lead with “pay your dues!” That’s what anti-union people say unions want: your money; money isn’t here, it’s in Albany; need to implement something larger; what can we do and not do relative to the students? How do we mobilize them to influence their parents, representatives, etc. that’s where the leverage is; need to figure out what the outward facing campaign is: need a mechanism to get in touch with students, alumni, and parents
    • Met with 8th floor; pitched an idea using alumni data for political work
    • Where does civil disobedience come in?
    • How can structures that already exist for GAs be implemented for other titles? Can we make a team of reps of different titles? Stewards by title with EC members helping out?
  • Labor management strategies & dates for the semester (25 min)
    • Penny is on sabbatical next year; we need another person who will be the point person
  • Digital signage campaign proposal (5 minutes)
    • What should the exact purpose be?
      • Education – “Did you know?” series
      • Awareness about chapter – could spotlight EC reps
      • Campaign/project specific announcements: GA contract demand voting (Aug 28-Sep 4); MOE (fall)
    • Should we profile EC reps or other PSC members?
    • Should the quotes be responses to a specific prompt (if so, which one/s?) or be excerpted from our one-on-ones?
    • How can we make these as eye-catching as possible?
  • Other updates (5 min) – everyone
    • Marisa Holmes – rally next Monday, August 7. Spread the word and show up if you can.
    • CAP
    • Fall chapter meetings

July 12th EC Meeting Minutes

Minutes from chapter’s Executive Committee Meeting – 7/12/17

  • Beginning of year plans: one-stop, orientation, tabling (20 min.)
    • Working document linked above
  • Contract campaign plan (20 min.)
    • How to take maximum advantage, influence 61B:
    • Train stewards on survey – big task for all of September.
    • Luke on Bargaining Team – official but non-voting. How do we make that matter: accountability, reportage. Formal, systematic feedback mechanisms: what meetings are happening, what topics were discussed. What are the rules of engagement? Written reports? Reports at Chapter meetings? An office hour? A GA forum? Luke should also be representing Adjuncts, NTAs? Yes, but technically how?
    • Need to develop narratives & examples from person experiences
    • Contract demands thru chapter meetings and otherwise, to DA by end of October. Can we extend this discussion at Chapter meetings into October or does that cut too close?
    • What is the timeline, and creating our own timeline at this chapter – a group or subcommittee at the chapter both to build our own work and to influence 61 Broadway’s strategy
    • What’s up with course reduction for FTers?
    • Internet address for contract advisory groups
    • Have to figure out what is do-able, and whether to have a laundry list or a short prioritized list. Will the survey inform this decision?
  • Resolutions proposal (25 min.)
    • Working document linked above
    • We will finalize this proposal at August EC and bring to Sept chapt mtg for ratification
  • Plan chapter meetings for the year (20 min.)
    • Set dates & frequency
      • Two a semester – see below for why not more. Tuesday, Sept. 19 – 12:30; Try a 4:30 PM meeting – food is out then, give GAs things to do, meeting starts closer to 5. Wednesday, Nov. 15 – 4:30
    • Involving shop stewards
    • Beware of meeting fatigue. Don’t let it distract from organizing: workshops, department meeting – building out to more people, not just speaking to the same 30-40 people again and again.
    • Reinvigorate by voting on everything? Experiment with different processes until we find one that works? This should be a place where people weigh in and tell us what we should be doing at LM, DA, etc.
    • How do we get people to feel this matters?
    • L-M: Reportage, and getting suggestions for agendas for those meetings.
    • DA: reportage and getting suggestions on what to do there.
    • Collective bargaining suggestions can be voted on.
    • How to deal with far-flung campuses? Schedule meetings there too – once a semester at each campus?  
  • Misc items (5 min)
    • DSA interested in solidarity work w/ us; turnout at B&H pickets
    • Been in some talks with UAW folks organizing at the New School, and they are eager to support our union struggle.
    • CAP mtg monthly picketing — does this mean we will organize something for August?
    • how would folks feel about the Free CUNY campaign folks organizing a Free CUNY petition event outside CUNY Central?

End-of-Year Reflections

Dear colleagues—

As we wrap up the semester, I just wanted to remind us all of the incredible work we have done in this last year to build the power of our union. Activists in our chapter signed up hundreds of new members, secured more money and additional health benefits for Graduate Assistants, helped to vamp up adjunct organizing city-wide, organized numerous social solidarity events, and much more! For a fuller list of what we have accomplished together, see below.

With our contract expiring in the Fall and an impending union-busting ruling from the Supreme Court, we must continue this momentum over the summer. Join the team that will be leading the contract campaign fight, and check our calendar regularly for updated events. See you out there!


Anh Tran, on behalf of the PSC-GC Executive Committee


  • We organized a series of workshops on contingent labor with a guest speaker from the California Faculty Association, a union which has achieved pay parity and job security for adjuncts.
  • Our committees—Grievance, Internal Organizing, Solidarity, HEO Steering —have increased member participation in the work of the chapter, and signed up over a dozen new departmental stewards so that the union would have a presence and mobilizational force in every department.
  • We compelled Graduate Center management to stop lowering stipends to offset contractual raises—this means over $1,000 more per year in every Graduate Assistant-B’s pocket.
  • We won back-pay and signing bonuses for Graduate Assistants for the first time.
  • We signed up hundreds of new members in our chapter, and the cumulative work of the past three years nearly tripled our representation at the Delegate Assembly.
  • We led the push at the Delegate Assembly for bottom-up contract negotiations and a PSC-wide Contract/Budget strategy meeting.
  • We helped to  organize and expand the Committee of Adjuncts and Part-Timers, an organizing tool for part-timers throughout the CUNY system.
  • We ended the one year “wait period” for health insurance when Graduate Assistants transfer from the dissertation deposit phase to Adjuncting.
  • We expanded access to the Professional Development Fund for more Graduate Assistants.
  • We organized a petition drive at the School of Professional to pressure the administration to ensure safe drinking water in the building.
  • We organized picketing with Verizon workers for the duration of their strike, demonstrating our commitment to union issues beyond CUNY.
  • We organized a speakout and protest in front of the steps of the Graduate Center when a GC student and chapter member, Saira Rafiee, was denied entry into the U.S. due to Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
  • We organized a speakout on International Women’s Day.
  • We led a contingent of GC students to the May Day marches.
  • We organized a film screening and day of solidarity with the release of two political prisoners: Chelsea Manning and Oscar Lopez Rivera.
  • Through labor management meetings, we pressured GC management into giving our union chapter an office space, to follow up on 1,000 undelivered bonus checks, and to to speed up IRB procedures.

May 24th Chapter Meeting Minutes

Minutes from GC Chapter Meeting – 5/24/17

Welcome – Anh

  • Goal of meeting is to create an action team-Contract Campaign Committee/Action Team- that can put into action plans of this meeting

Political Context for Contract Campaign – Penny, Andrea

  • Our contract expires in November
  • Bad pattern has been set by state unions: 2-2-2 pattern
  • We will almost certainly be facing a 20% cut in our operating budget because of Janus
  • Resistance to Cuomo has fallen because he is positioned as progressive in public eye as compared to Trump and with free tuition
  • Big campaign against Constitutional Convention by many unions and allies. NY Labor Movement is incredibly concerned about this. Pushing people to vote against Constitutional Convention because afraid right-wing interests will oppose workers interests, the homeless, school children.
  • More people are agitated and political engaged in decades. People are angry.
  • Studies about what CUNY does for people of NY. Helps us make a case.
  • Resisting Trump means supporting public sector and supporting public unions.
  • The fight for $15 and fights for inequality means our fight for $7K for adjuncts and movement of salary scales for people at the bottom. Our arguments are going with that.
  • We have over 1 million CUNY alum as untapped resource.
  • Public campaign for support of CUNY is possible.
  • With the contract campaign, we are going to be listening and talking about recommitment campaign. Means we will have a more mobilized membership to fight for campaign.
  • HEOs met last week (about 30 present) to talk about contract last week
  • We will be hearing issues, strategies, plans to report to bargaining team
  • Fill out survey

Open Discussion on Contract Campaign – everyone

  • Why is PEF 222 bad? Because it’s below inflation raises and not enough! We need flexibility to use our pot of money for our specific needs this is a disappointing public sector union pattern
    • Need more money for salaries, parental leave, higher wages for people at lowest salaries. Much more constrained in creativity when don’t have money.
    • Extra money will come from budget campaign because hard to break a pattern
    • If we have a contract campaign tied to a public campaign and CUNY as engine for mobility then Governor may do it.
  • Reach out to CUNY alumni to swing public opinion in our favor
    • CUNY does not keep good records of its alumni! PSC should directly appeal to alumni part of a public-facing contract campaign
    • People in this city care about CUNY and we need to take advantage of this!
  • Should we maximize the discontent around Excelsior Scholarship?
    • We need to educate ourselves on Excelsior Scholarship, its limitations & possibilities
    • Anne from Financial Aid can get us detailed info
    • Excelsior not free tution, undergrad only, must be 30 credits, cannot drop credits. Most students do not take 30 credits every academic year. Designed for only a certain type of student. When graduate have to stay in NY State- must find a job and must file tax return. If you get admitted for a grad program out of state, you can’t go. And it turns into a loan. Financial Aid people don’t like this. Maximum it pays is $5500. Only pays left over of tuition not met and none of it goes in hand of student.
    • Do we tap into people who become disillusioned? By mid-semester people will realize that this is a big lie
  • PSC Member Survey missing “option” for engaging PSC leadership with our demands & our ideas + missing option for open bargaining
    • PSC Member Survey results should be made public
      • Rank-and-file members should control the narrative
      • Every member should have access to survey to make own cross-tabs.
  • Need to find out what unifies all the titles in the union, what one another’s issues are
    • Need to familiarize ourselves with each other’s issues and advocate for one another
    • When we engage in conversations, how do we approach full-time, part-time, HEO, CLT, how do we open up ways of talking to each other and what unifies us in terms of the contract? HEO may not know what adjunct needs. How open it up?
  • PSC Executive Council’s timeline calls for EC creating demands committee rather than consulting with existing committees how do we create a more horizontal flow of information & ideas
    • Timeline will be shorter. Subcommittees are way of functioning- adjunct subcommittee or GA subcommittee (2-3 people). Advisory committees are not on Bargaining Team.
  • When EC appoints bargaining team, will the Bargaining Team include people often excluded like Grad Assistants, CLTs, etc.? Should be crucial part of GC contract campaign.
    • We are currently campaigning the Executive Council to invite on a GA. We are mapping out EC and pushing GA on bargaining team. There has been a positive response. Andrea and Penny are on board.
  • BT needs to be more responsive than in the past.
    • Mandate detailed reportbacks on each bargaining session
    • BT needs to be more responsive than in the past.
    • Include more adjuncts on the bargaining team- proportional representation.
    • Adjuncts need an independent voice. Full-time does not represent all.
    • Has always been a CLT on the BT in the past (this time the CLT on it retired and moved away mid-process but usually there is one).
    • In the past there have been two contracts there where were GAs on the BT.
  • Does the governor & board of trustees know and care about CUNY’s starvation for funds? Are they receptive to studies about CUNY stating its integral role in socioeconomic mobility? What do we do when they say there is no money?
    • We need a robust contract campaign connected to public campaign for CUNY funding & budget campaign learn from Chicago Teacher’s Union with their creative campaign linking these different issues
    • Think ahead to next year’s NYC & NYS budget/election cycle to develop our strategies The current ones are not including more money to increase adjunct pay. Need longer view and need to get serious about contract and budget campaign. This spring, wanted to plug into an active campaign around budget and didn’t happen from union. Opportunity not being given by union. Adjuncts weren’t able to testify because not union priority. Broad campaign around more funding for CUNY.
  • Last round of bargaining had long time. Listened on every campus. We have a complicated bargaining unit with many titles. We had long lists of demands some very detailed and some very broad. We did a lot of listening and unfortunately we didn’t win all of them. Kept records about what members said from different titles. What did we get last time? Do we need more on another title? Grad Assistants weren’t on radar last time and that should be different. The listening on every campus is happening. People are meeting and expressing concerns.
  • Possible that Janus Supreme Court decision (right-to-work for less) may come down earlier than expected
    • DC 37 negotiators, they think Janus decision will come earlier Dec or Jan and they already know that a right-wing think tank in NY has foiled their membership list and they anticipate the day after this decision that everyone in DC37 will get a letter saying you can save $500. Janus says people who are agency fee payers will not have to pay dues.
  • Need to set concrete numeric goals in regards to internal organizing for the contract campaign
  • At GC we got people out for May Day and Women’s Strike. How can we as a chapter help politicize this building more? How do we resist the normalization of Trump? this needs to be made explicit in contract campaign plans
  • Members need a stake & a voice in the process
  • What is the proposed timeline by the PSC Executive Council missing?
    • Nothing on public outreach!
    • Consider timeline as a working document. Something that we can contribute to.
  • Chapter meetings could have educational pieces that dig deeper into relevant & pertinent issues so that we are more prepared for action
  • How do we involve the maximum number of members in our public campaign
  • We will most likely lose adjuncts when we lose agency fee adjunct fight needs to be central in contract campaign
  • The Strike Authorization Vote was the most invigorating time for us learn from SAV campaign for the contract campaign: what worked, what didn’t work
  • “Practice round” for militant contract campaign actions yesterday (5/23) when Cuomo visited the Graduate Center
  • Dozen HEOs and GAs came out last minute with signs to protest Cuomo’s budget before getting thrown out
  • Seems like contract campaign only at union and not on campuses based on
  • Do we anticipate that CUNY will be working with anti-union consultants? What messages for inoculation of membership?

Events calendar – Gerry

  • Each committee should meet over summer. Anything about GC and/or labor. Graduate Center chapter of PSC. Linked to social media

Three May Events

There are three upcoming events to keep in mind (and RSVP for!):

Please RSVP to Sam for the event(s) that you are attending!

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