SLU LM 10.12.23

The first Labor Management meeting of the new academic year covered many topics and lasted two hours. There is much to share, organized by subject.

Delays in paychecks

Over a dozen tenure-stream and adjunct faculty worked this summer but have yet to see their paychecks! These workers normally do not get paid in the summer but are paid through the non-teaching adjunct (NTA) hourly rates when they are asked to perform work for the school. Most were laboring on crucial curriculum development – much needed given the proliferation of new programs at SLU. Additionally, there are coworkers who won outside grants and awards that were supposed to be paid through NTA hours, and these folks have not been paid either! This situation is unconscionable at a labor school, and financially straining for our most vulnerable adjunct coworkers. One of the sticking points appears to be that CUNY HR wants to pay people according to their rank, not according to the nature of the work their performed, creating a situation where two people doing the same committee work will be paid at different rates.

When we brought up the delayed payments, management blamed the delay on transitions in HR personnel, an administrative staff member no longer at SLU, and the workers themselves for not filling out timesheets. Although they promised that the payment issue will be resolved quickly and will not happen again with new systems put in place, the new HR director declined to provide a timeline to resolution in the meeting. Management promised to create a new streamlined and more efficient system for submitting NTA hours.

Health and Safety

Our side presented the results of the health and safety walkthrough performed on October 5. This report included discussion of ventilation, air flow, temperature, and noise. Coworkers reported that 167 air filters are changed every three months, and custodial staff are doing an excellent job. We discussed once again that even though the 14th floor terrace barriers are up to code, they really should be higher. We expressed concerns about the security feed and the hours and presence of security guards. We requested workplace violence training specific to the 14th floor, as well as CPR training. Management committed to looking into both, with our feedback about what we want. (Have ideas? Talk to your steward.) They also reminded us to do our state-mandated workplace violence and sexual harassment trainings, although our point was that those do not meet all our needs. Management has completed an emergency preparedness document, which they will share with everyone via email and on the website following feedback from the health and safety committee.

We have confirmed that SLU can issue local alerts through CUNYAlerts system.

We once again discussed the paper towel issue. Particularly for those of us working more at the SLU location, this has been aggravating: no paper towels not just in the bathrooms but in the kitchens as well. Management restated their concern that unidentified individuals are clogging the toilets with paper towels, at high cost ($200,000 over seven incidents) to the school. We don’t actually know that it is paper towels that caused it. It is as likely to be period products since there are no sanitary bins in the stalls. In the end, management agreed to return paper towels to the kitchens.

Research Foundation employees at SLU

The latest update on the Research Foundation employees at SLU is that they are still not able to join the PSC. We submitted signed union cards to management at the Research Foundation, but instead of voluntarily recognizing this new field unit, they are saying they will bring in an independent arbitrator to validate the cards (all two of them). In other words, they are dragging their feet and we have coworkers at the labor school who can’t join the union. Dean Mantsios said that he will ask the Chancellor’s counsel why an arbitrator is needed and reiterated that he has always been in support of union representation of our RF coworkers. Nevertheless, we are now facing a situation where one of the two RF coworkers is about to retire. More are likely to be hired, and the resolution eludes us.

COVID advisory

The Office of Academic Affairs issued a classroom advisory on October 10, which helps establish some protocols in the absence of guidance from CUNY Central. However, there are several issues: The advisory stipulates tasks that are to be carried out by staff, but staff have not received a COVID advisory. There are also issues of health and safety for staff when it comes to COVID, and there should be an advisory to address these. The advisory says there are masks available but at the time of this meeting, there were no masks on the 14th floor, front desk, or bursar’s office.

Management present were not well informed about the classroom advisory, and at first resisted the idea that any COVID guidance could be issued. We insisted that it has already been issued but to only some workers, and that information must be shared with all SLU workers. Management promised to get back to us with a staff advisory. They also promised to make masks available.

Staff morale

Worker morale remains an issue at SLU, and we returned to a discussion of factors that contribute to making SLU a difficult place to work. Our coworkers set the tone by emphasizing the disconnect that we experience between what is taught about labor and social justice and how we operate as a workplace. These issues fall squarely under management’s ability to rectify. One of our coworkers read a quote from Managing with Labor Values and asked management to hear us without being reactive and defensive.

Coworkers continue to be demoralized by the practices around staff daily attendance, demanding to know why walkarounds by members of the operations department are happening and what purposes the staff daily attendance serves. Management clarified that they do not see eye-to-eye with us on this, and that they see in-person attendance as a serious issue at SLU. Management complained specifically about bringing high level visitors to SLU for tours and staff not being around for those events. In fact, they scheduled the all-staff meeting at the same time as trustees’ visit for that reason. Management then repeatedly brough up our low in-person attendance on the Friday of catastrophic flooding as evidence of the attendance problems.

Coworkers, let’s pause for a second to repeat this. Management used an extreme weather emergency that paralyzed the public transportation system and placed New Yorkers’ lives at risk to illustrate that we don’t come to work in-person when we are supposed to. How is your morale doing?

Staff suggested to management that there should be a joint taskforce for morale and culture. Management agreed to consider such a taskforce.

Turning to the weather emergency itself, we reminded management that this came up last fall during another severe flooding event that posed risk to students to students and workers returning home late after class, when no alert or communication issued. During this more recent weather emergency, there was an inadequate response from CUNY Central but some campuses did better than SLU. Medgar Evers colleagues received a notification early in the morning that all non-essential staff should work remotely and conduct classes remotely. Our fellow PSC members there reported being spared from braving extreme weather conditions or navigating confusing weather notifications. SLU notice went out at 1:15pm “If you are working on campus today and feel that the weather will present a travel hardship, please speak to your immediate supervisor if you wish to work remotely for the remainder of the afternoon.”

As SLU workers, we spent the day hearing from each other and our students about extreme weather conditions. A class of our high school students arrived at SLU soaked to learn that their instructor could not make it. It took several hours to set them up for class remotely. Public transportation became disabled and coworkers struggled to get home safely. To not have an email blast come until the afternoon, and having it be phrased the way it was, makes us as workers feel unvalued as human beings whose basic safety matters. It was especially difficult to experience when we are in touch with colleagues on other campuses that experience a more effective and humane response. We must consider not just turning to remote work but canceling classes during extreme weather conditions. What is our plan for the climate crisis? What is the point of having the CUNY Alert system that does not get used?

Management responded that they are learning from each emergency. They are in a bind because it has been made clear to them that they cannot close the school on their own, but they can probably do other things, like switching to remote work. Management asked us to come up with what they could have done better. We reiterated that expressing basic concern for workers’ safety and wellbeing during emergencies would help with morale. We want them to LEAD with labor values and care for workers and students, especially during emergencies. Do not follow policies that don’t make sense!

Finally, following on our request for communication and transparency made last year, we brought up the need for a systematic, clear communication system at SLU. “What everyone needs to know” memo has not gone out as planned. We need to know about colleagues leaving and coming on. We want to be part of decision making around physical workspaces. Management said that they expect to issue the “What everyone needs to know” memo monthly, after ironing out the language in different departments’ communications, which has not all been accessible.