Sunday, November 11, 2007

An Open Letter of Apology to Barbara Bowen and The New Caucus Party

You regular readers (well, 'regular' is relative, considering how rarely I post) know that I supported both the New Caucus and contract ratification in Spring of 2006. Despite many of the things I like about the New Caucus' positions, there seems to have been a trend, at least in the elections for the HEO (Higher Education Officers) Chapter, to keep non-New Caucus candidates off the ballot. One of those candidates is a HEO from City College, Peter Russell (disclosure: Peter is a neighbor and occasional drinking buddy of mine).

Now, as you can see from his letter below, Peter is a 'no-holds-barred' kind of guy. And while he and I don't always see eye-to-eye about union issues, his is a voice that deserves to be heard, which is why I lent him my blog. He's the kind of free-thinking and militant rep we need in the union leadership. Keeping him off the ballot for the HEO elections is a mistake. Yes, in the short run, those kind of election tactics work, but good unionism is supposed to be better than electoral machinations. Rather than spend energy and political capital on excluding candidates, and thus building internal animosity within the PSC, the union leadership should be trying to bring in the disparate voices, so that it can show CUNY's administration that we are, indeed, a united labor force.

By the way, HEOs who are members of the PSC can write Peter's name in on the ballot when you get it. Write in: Peter Russell, CCNY
And now, to Peter's message:

An Open Letter of Apology to Barbara Bowen and The New Caucus Party

Dearest Barbara,

Let me say that I am deeply, deeply sorry if there was any misunderstanding between us regarding my absolute and undying loyalty to the New Caucus Party and the PSC Union (not that I would ever imply of course that there should be ANY difference between the two).

I am extremely relieved to be informed that my proposed formal candidacy for HEO Alternate Delegate was summarily rejected by the New Caucus Leadership, and that “Write-Ins (Please Print)”, a loyal member of the Party I have never met personally but is undoubtedly much more worthy and dedicated to The Cause, will have the opportunity to serve instead. Thank goodness the savvy political operatives in the Party have prevailed, and my candidacy was disallowed because of unspoken, but no doubt terribly important reasons. I just hope that no confused Party Members will submit my name as a write in candidate.

For you see, I know I could never hope to match the degree of success that you and the other Great Party Leaders of our Union have achieved, especially with regards to The Great 5 Year Triumph, our last contract. It was foolish of me to even think so. Every day, and with every paycheck, we Workers hug each other, deliriously overcome with joy at what your remarkably remarkable leadership has delivered to us. For each and every one of us, it is TRULY a gift that just keeps on giving.

I understand now, Barbara.

You could reach out and see that in the depths of my heart my dedication to the Party did not reflect sufficient loyalty to The Cause. I will try harder. I must try harder. It is my sincerest hope that after a suitable period of reeducation, one day I WILL be completely blind and utterly ruthless in my loyalty to the Party (or if you prefer, you), and therefore might be of some small service to the New Caucus. Our enemies might call these methods unctuous bootlicking, but what they don’t know is that boots gently shined clean by the tongues of the Party Faithful will stomp on the yoke of oppression much better than dirty ones.

Yes, I am renewing my commitment to standing tall with you and the party in Solidarity, particularly during this year of difficult contract negotiations, and more importantly, the 80th anniversary of Trotsky’s exile from Party leadership. Trotsky weighs heavily on all our hearts on a daily basis, and we know you stand strong and committed to honoring his legacy properly.

Barbara, on a purely personal note, I would also like to extend my deepest thanks. You have helped me to understand an important Party Lesson. Quaint rules are deadly obstacles to the ultimate victory of the Workers over those who would enslave them. Thank you for showing me that the most democratic way to run an election is to bypass oppressive parliamentary procedures and open forums, and have the Party apparatus decide all the candidates for us.

For that, I bow to your wisdom, and can hardly wait until the next election cycle to see what scrawled names on a crumpled slip of paper you will declare as candidates and future champions of Our Cause.

And how can I NOT give monumental thanks to First Vice President Steve London, the modern day Prometheus of the American Labor movement, for his great gift of unwavering loyalty and dedication to the Party. Whether supporting something, or later denying it ever existed, I have always been inspired by the beads of sweat dripping from his rippling biceps and his tousled hair glowing in the sunlight as he leads the PSC Workers in our glorious struggle. Just thinking about him has always caused my heart to beat a little faster. I sincerely hope that he receives the same reward as Prometheus himself, a reward he so richly deserves.

I must also pass on the highest praise to all of the other nameless Noble Warriors of the Party who have labored so tirelessly behind the scenes to make our cherished New Caucus a mighty juggernaut. Enemies of Our Cause may smear them as faceless party hacks making sleazy deals in smoke filled backrooms, but we know that is not the truth.

We KNOW the truth.
The New Caucus Party Headquarters is a smoke free environment!

Can you feel it?

I can.

The day is coming. Maybe not soon, or even after 3 or 4 more years without a contract, but the day IS coming. The day is coming when we achieve our Ultimate Victory over the parasitic leaders of CUNY, and will march proudly up Broadway arm in arm during the May Day parade. And when we pass Union headquarters, a great cheer will go out and our hearts will soar in Solidarity when we see the giant bronze statue of “Bowen the Great”, smiling and holding the manifesto of your choice. It is then that the crowd will erupt and the New Caucus Party credo will be shouted from the rooftops; “One People, One Party, One Leader!”

You are now, and will always be a True Hero of the PSC Union to me.

Eternally yours in Solidarity

Stephen Peter Russell

P.S. A Reminder; DO NOT write in my name on the HEO ballot, for I have been judged unworthy by our betters in the New Caucus Party.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Every year at the family Christmas event (that's "event" as in what they held in the Roman Coliseum), my Republican brother-in-law and I have gone through the same script:
Republican Brother-In-Law: "So, you're on winter break?"
Me: "Yep." (I am uncharacteristically pithy at these things)
RBIL: "When do you go back to school?"
Me: "End of January."
RBIL: "What a racket!"

At that point, I usually pour myself another Irish eggnog and look for an escape. But last year I finally came up with a response that shut him up:
RBIL: "What a racket!"
Me: "Did you get a Christmas bonus?"
RBIL: "Sure!"
Me: "Well, mine is our winter break."

The folks who won't be getting any bonus this year, or any year, are the folks in the HEO Class—the various ranks of Higher Education Officers at CUNY who are covered by the collective bargaining agreement between the City University of New York and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). The CUNY-PSC contract refers to HEOs and other 'non-teaching instructional staff' (this is language only a labor negotiator could love), such as the registrars, and the college lab techs (CLTs). For simplicity, I'm going to include all these job titles in the collective "HEO Class".*

The HEO Class are the folks who show up every day. They are our colleagues who do much of the administrative and non-teaching work that allows the faculty to do faculty-type activities, such as teach, research, and consult. They are the ones who have to monitor their vacation days. They are the ones who work during the winter intercession and the annual summer leave. If they're sick for more than a couple of days, they have to document it. And these days, they are not allowed to talk to the media about CUNY issues without permission of their campus minister of information or face dismissal—we're not talking academic freedom of inquiry here, we're talking constitutional free speech (for an example of one policy, see Baruch's at

Now, some faculty may wonder what's the big deal--the HEO Class have the same pay scales as faculty, they have tenure or its practical equivalent, and they can even get overscale pay of 165% of their salary (which is news to most HEOs). Compared to equivalent jobs in other educational institutions, the HEO Class at CUNY seem to have a pretty good deal. But the HEOs I know are seething.

Basically, the HEO Class are marginalized by the CUNY administration, the PSC, and the faculty themselves--one friend defines the HEO Class as "the people whom the faculty don't treat as equals". It is no surprise that the administration treats them badly--it's the administration's job to treat all CUNY employees badly, whether it be economically through less-than-COLA wage increases, or non-economically by limiting our personal rights and professional authority (see free speech above). But because of the PSC's structure that was set up years ago, the HEO Class endure benign neglect from their union. There are separate 'cross-campus' chapters for the HEOs, the CLTs, and the registrars, and this cross-chapter structure weakens the HEO Class' work situation. While a faculty chapter chair represents one local campus, the HEO Class' cross-chapter chairs have to cover over 20 campuses in the five boroughs in New York. When faculty have a grievance, especially over tenure, reappointment, or academic freedom, there is a local grievance officer, and a network of campus-based faculty who can talk to those with the juice to remedy the situation. The grievance officer for each cross-campus chapter of the HEO Class has to handle grievances at those 20-plus campuses, with few local connections and with little knowledge of the local campus' political terrain. HEOs have to rely instead on local 'labor-management' committees, which have no real teeth and whose workings are often hidden from the grieving HEO. Hence, the HEO Class have few defenses in the face of administration abuse. Even when it comes to chapter meetings, the HEOs have to travel to some other campus, often in another borough, for a meeting—and at Baruch, we can't even get some faculty to cross the street for a chapter meeting! There is weak cultivation of a local fabric of unionism and support among the HEO Class because of the current PSC structure.

I have colleagues who ask me rhetorically "when did PSC stop being a faculty union?" I don't remember a time when the PSC was solely a faculty union, and frankly, I don't care. What I care about is the PSC having some teeth when we go back to our next round of contract negotiations, and the full-time faculty are not willing to bare their teeth—but I think the HEO Class are. During the last contract negotiations, it was clear that a strike was not palatable to the bulk of the faculty, and thus would be a failed tactic if used. But equally clear was how badly CUNY's administration treated its professional employees in the last contract negotiations--it took CUNY 18 months into the expired contract to make its first economic offer--and that we need some legal but sharp-edged weapons with which to negotiation. And the HEO Class can wield some of those weapons.

The HEO Class can 'work to rules'. They can take all the vacation time that is due them. All those HEOs who are working late into the night or on weekends can stop doing that work. The HEO Class should put an end the myth of 'comp time'. CUNY can find plenty of adjuncts to replace absent faculty, or can offer overload courses to full-time faculty to fill the gaps in the classroom. But CUNY would be hard pressed to supplant or augment the extra work that the HEO class currently perform if they stuck to their 35-hour weeks. Oooo-wheee—now that would make the contract negotiations more interesting!

But we cannot ask the HEO Class to do that unless the PSC creates a structure that gives them real local protection through campus-based grievance officers and campus chapter support.

So what must be done? There are lots of possibilities, and I know that the PSC is looking into remedying the HEO Class' situation. Here are a few ideas:

  • Eliminate the cross-campus chapters: merge the HEO Class with their local campus chapters (at Baruch, the HEO Class are coming to all the meetings and killing our food budget anyway, so we might as well make it official);
  • Create HEO Class roles on the local campus exec committees: any slate running for campus chapters will need to include members from the various job classifications. This can help minimize the 'give us more and give them less' perspective of some union candidates, which doesn't help any of us at negotiation time;
  • Include the HEO Class in the eligibility for chapter chairs: some faculty may balk at this, but faculty almost always outnumber the HEO Class on each campus. If the faculty really want a faculty member as the chapter chair, they have to come up with a good candidate, and have to vote in the chapter elections;
  • Have grievances for the HEO Class handled by the campus chapters: this is the most problematic, mostly because some college administrators have an indefatigable ability to commit grievable offenses, making the campus grievance counselors overworked as it is. So the PSC will have to find some ways to reinforce the numbers of the existing campus grievance officers.

Let's retire the iconic strategy of 'strike and struggle'—that served only as a red herring during the last round of negotiations, distracting us from the issues. Instead, let's lay a structural foundation that will give us some tactical advantage in the next negotiations. Bring the HEO Class from the fringes of the union, recognize their frustration, recognize their power, and make them a central part of our strategy for a better contract.

What do you think? Write me at, or post a response to this blog.

* In the HEO Class, I'm not including the librarians and the counselors, because they have some faculty-type obligations, and some HEO-type obligations, and I'm still working trying to figure out the specifics. And most of all, I'm not including the CUNY employees who are represented by DC37. They labor under much worse contract conditions and pay, and that's a topic for another blog.

PS. I know it has been a while since my last posting—frankly, I was burnt out with the PSC elections and the last contract's unending travails, and I needed a break. With the new round of negotiations coming up, however, and CUNY's voracious appetite for ways to circumscribe our working and professional lives, I'll be a lot more active, and will be looking at issues relevant to each constituency group of the PSC.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

PSC-CUNY and Practical Politics

My wife was excited when the new contract was ratified, because I said I would spend all the retroactive pay I receive from the first two-and-a-half years on her birthday gift. Unfortunately, I left the contract lying around the house, and she's figured out how little that is. So while I'm working myself out of the doghouse, I have a buddy of mine doing a guest posting.

'Historian' is an academic and a labor/community activist, and has worked at institutions of higher education where the unions have had considerable success in negotiating better pay and benefits. This is part one of his guest posting.

The State of New York has a surplus. The City of New York has a surplus. The CUNY faculty has a national reputation for scholarship and teaching. CUNY is by far the largest urban college and university system in the nation and perhaps in the world. Yet, the CUNY union was forced to settle for roughly a 9.5% compensation package to run through 2007; a package which will almost certainly turn out to be below COLA for the contract period considering the upward rise of interest rates.

I do not blame the PSC. They did the best they could in the negotiating room. President Barbara Bowen admits on the PSC website that the difficult political situation limited the authority the union could assert when negotiating with CUNY administrators. The problem is not who leads the union. The problem is the course the union is navigating. No union can go into negotiations without leverage over management. Your AFL-CIO brothers and sisters have the power to strike. You don’t. So what is your alternative?

PSC-CUNY must get serious about practical politics immediately.

The governor, the mayor, the state legislature, and the city council hold the reins of power over CUNY’s budget and work rules. The good news is that these administrators and legislators must run for office every two to four years. The even better news is that academics make very good political activists when they set their minds to it.

I am sure that most of you who are reading this are already politically active. This is why I intentionally focus on practical politics, because the needs of the CUNY workers as workers—you are professionals in relationship to each other and your students, you are workers in relationship to the administration—may differ from your personal preferences. For example, I am a seasoned political progressive, but if we were in Utah or Alabama, I would be urging you to make peace with and gain influence among Republicans.

New York is strongly tilted towards the Democrats. But even the Democrats will not make improving CUNY workers’ salaries, benefits, and work conditions a high priority unless PSC-CUNY directly engages in the struggle to end divided government in the state.

Exactly how I think you should proceed will be the subject of my next short piece. For now I want to whet your appetites. Did you know that the typical teaching load in community colleges in Washington State is 3-3, whereas CUNY senior college faculty regularly teach 4-3 and community college faculty teach 5-4? University of California humanities and social science faculty teach a 2-2 load. Did you know that some community colleges in California negotiated 80% annual sabbatical compensation in the 1980s? Did you know that unionized college faculties all over the US have negotiated ‘course banking?’ Course banking is a provision whereby one teaches an extra course, banking teaching credit rather than accepting the ridiculously low adjunct pay rate. When the number of courses banked equals one’s teaching load for a semester you take the semester off with full pay and benefits. Did you know that in Fall, 2006 at Saddleback Community College in southern California, teachers and some administrators with M.A.s plus 60 additional course units and thirty years seniority will be making $113,716? Compare this last figure with example #1 under salary increases in the PSC-CUNY “Contract Settlement” report.

The political buzz from both major political parties has been for some time ‘education reform.’ What this has meant in reality is managing educational workers and cutting costs. These are your institutions, these are your careers: are you ready to challenge who rules and establish “New Rules?”


Both Historian and I will return with concrete strategies and tactics for the next round of contract negotiations--BF.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Deal--or No Deal?

I was trying to get Howie Mandel to be this week's guest columnist, but he was still busy trying to find a gag-writer. Instead, I decided I should write about the PSC membership's own version of Deal or No Deal—ratification of the proposed 2002-2007 contract.

Between the CUNY Administration's refusal to give an economic offer for 18 months into the lapsed contract, the acrimony of the PSC elections, and city and state governments' adamance on giving lower than cost-of-living raises to public sector workers, this contract has attracted a lot of attention. But before discussing this situation, I thought it might be helpful to list the details from the last two contracts and the proposed one for comparison. You can find the precise contracts in the links included:

1996-2000 Contract (under the previous PSC leadership of Irwin Polishook and Richard Borus):

  • 11/1/1994: the last raise from the previous contract
  • 2/1/1996: Start date for Contract
  • 2/1/1998: 3.0% increase—two years into the contract, 37 months after last previous raise
  • 5/1/1999: 4.0% increase
  • 10/1/1999: 2.0% increase
  • 8/1/2000: ending date for contract;
Notable items:
  • $1,175 per capita per full-time member to the Welfare Fund;
  • There was a 37 month period of no pay increase. The contract was signed 7/1/1998, meaning there was only 5 months of retroactive pay for members;
  • there was a $1250 lump sum payment on 9/1/1998 in lieu of retroactive;
  • the pay increase was 9.26% compounded over the contract;
  • the contract's duration was four years, six months (2/1/96 – 8/1/2000);

2000-2002 Contract (first contract under the New Caucus)
( & )
  • 10/1/1999: the last raise from the previous contract
  • 8/1/2000: 4.0% -- this was the start of the contract
  • 8/1/2001: 3.0% (3.8% for 'top step' employees)
  • 10/31/2002: ending date for contract;

Notable items:

  • $1,375 per capita per full-time member to the Welfare Fund (a 17% increase) eventuall worked up to $1,440 per capita;
  • the pay increase was 7.12 % (7.95% for top steps) compounded over contract
  • the contract's duration was two years, three months (8/1/2000– 10/31/2002);
  • adjuncts teaching 6 credits at one campus are paid for a 7th professional hour;
  • new full-time faculty receive 12 credits release time for research in their first five years;

2002-2007 Contract (proposed contract)

  • 8/1/2001: the last raise from the previous contract
  • 11/1/2002: Start date for Contract
  • 5/1/2004: 2.5% increase—18 months into the contract, 31 months after last previous raise
  • 5/1/2005: 2.75%
  • 5/1/2006: 3.5%
  • 9/17/2007: $800 increase to base pay for full-time instructional staff; 1% increase in pay scale for adjuncts; ending date for contract;

Notable items:

  • $1,590 per capita per full-time member to the Welfare Fund, eventually up to $1,640;
  • the pay increase was 8.48 + the addition of that $800 compounded over contract (for me, it actually does come out to 9.51%);
  • the contract's duration will be 4 years, 10 months, and 17 days (11/1/2002– 9/17/2007);
  • sabbaticals will go up to 80 pay%
  • the tenure clock will be extended from 5 to 7 years;
  • new full-time untenured faculty will receive 24 credits release time for research in their first five years (including counselors and librarians);
  • 100 new lecturer positions for experienced adjuncts;

The Big Picture
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for the metropolitan NY are (including PA, CT, and northern NJ), inflation has been 31% since 1996 (although, as I've mentioned before, the US government's CPI figures tend to the low side). The collective total for the past three contracts for me was 27.95%.The last contract under the old union leadership and the currently proposed contract both lost ground to inflation. The 2000-2002 contract, however, was markedly better (5.5% inflation vs. 7.12-7.95% in contractual wage increases). So the union leadership is capable of getting us a good deal, although most of the union's contracts have lost ground to inflation for the past three decades.

I get emails from folks complaining that their union sisters and brothers in some other job title are hurting the deal—for them. Looking at the proposed contract, there is something for almost everybody—better leave for full-time tenured faculty, more release time for full-time untenured faculty, and a shot at a full-time gig for adjuncts. The only folks I feel badly about are the HEOs, because they don't get much in this contract besides the basic pay, and they are the ones really working full-time with bosses looking over their shoulders all the time.

In addition, the final $800 bump is for 'full-time instructional staff'. CUNY's job classification system has more arcania than the DaVinci Code, and maybe the HEO class falls under the instructional staff category—but if I were them, I'd make sure that I was part of the group getting that $800.

Is That Your Final Answer?
There are some reasons why people are thinking of voting against ratifying the contract, and it is worth looking at them:

Vote 'No' and go back to negotiating: A colleague pointed out that in the 1990s, the United Federation of Teachers' membership did that, and they got a better contract after it. But those were very different times back then—Sandra Feldman was running the UFT, Rudy Giuliani was mayor, and Stanley Hill, the head of DC 37, hadn't had his close shave with the law yet. Also, George Pataki hadn't had the time to appoint a lopsided Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was still a Clinton shop at the time. A better comparison would be the TWU's travails when they voted down their contract, and were offered a worse deal, because the current political context is the same for them as it is for us.

Vote 'No' and go to binding arbitration: Binding arbitration is a big risk—look at the NYPD contract where new police officers actually received a hefty cut in pay! Also, in New York City, only the police and fire departments' collective bargaining agreements have binding arbitration—the rest are non-binding.

Vote 'No' as a symbolic gesture: Votes are symbolic only when you are sure that they won't affect the outcome. But don't vote symbolically if that's not what you really want—just ask the 538 Floridians who voted symbolically for Ralph Nader in 2000, or those eight TWU workers who symbolically voted 'No' against their contract the first time around (the margins in those elections were 537 and 7 votes, respectively).

Vote 'No' to punish the union leadership for negotiating badly: I hear a few union colleagues expressing this view. Fellow blogster the
Expatriate Owl asserts that the tactics of both CUNY's and PSC's negotiators were more appropriate for terminating a relationship, not continuing one, and as such, both sides were bargaining in less than good faith. The enmity on both sides could bear this out. While some might get a sense of satisfaction at such a rebuke to the PSC leadership, however, this tactic doesn't address the "what next" problem of a 'No' vote. Besides, we've just had a referendum on the union leadership, and the leadership won--it's time to move on.

My final answer is that I'm voting 'Yes' to ratify the contract *. This battle is over, we didn't do as well as we had anticipated, but I want to move on. Let's take the money, and let's get the Welfare Fund back in shape so we can get our teeth fixed. We have 18 months to prepare for the next contract battle--let's start getting ready to do better next time.

Don't forget to send in your ballots by June 2nd!!!

* Disclosure item: I have a side bet with a CUNY Alliance colleague that the membership will ratify the contract—the winner gets a dry Bombay Sapphire martini.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

'D' Is For Disengagement

I don't often get to vote for the winners in presidential elections--the Clinton years were a welcome break from my usual preference for the losing side. So, when Barbara Bowen and the New Caucus swept the recent Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY) elections, my first response was "Yessss!"; maybe my current losing streak was over. Looking at the numbers behind the election results, however, it is a bit early to start singing "Happy Days Are Here Again."

'Illuminating' is the non-committal word for the election numbers; 'disturbing' is more appropriate for those of us interested in a stronger union. To simplify this analysis, I'm going to focus on the presidential balloting, because the most votes were cast in that race. The numbers are posted at the PSC-CUNY website, and were compiled by the American Arbitration Association.

Approximately 5856 votes were cast for PSC president. I say 'approximately', because the tally actually was 5855.778 votes. The fractions of votes represent weighted retiree votes—more on that below. Barbara Bowen, the current PSC-CUNY president, received 3201.195 votes (54.7%) versus Rina Yarmish's 2654.583 votes (45.3%). This is a comfortable margin, but despite George W. Bush's definition, it is not a mandate. The New Caucus, Prof. Bowen's slate, has been around since 1995, and has the benefit of incumbency. Prof. Yarmish's slate, the CUNY Alliance, had gone public only a few months before the election (the first email I received from them was February 3, 2006). The CUNY Alliance did not have the ground troops of the New Caucus—I know two faculty members who were listed on the CUNY Alliance election slate who didn't know they were on the ballot. Still, with a skillful email campaign, the relentless sarcasm of the Patriot Returns, which plays the role of Bill O'Reilly for the CUNY Alliance, and the CUNY Alliance's reworked theme song of that Bing Crosby hit, "Accentuate the Negative", the margin was narrower than it should have been for the New Caucus. Just on these numbers alone, the newly elected PSC leadership needs to look at its direction.

But before the folks from the CUNY Alliance start patting themselves on the back, a bigger concern for all of us who want a stronger union is the poor turnout in this election. The union reports that the total number of ballots sent out were 13,769. The total number of ballots returned was 6721—that means that just 48.8% of the folks eligible to vote bothered to do so. In recalculating the retiree weighting, 17% of those ballots were retirees, which means only about 5600 of the active members voted. Considering that CUNY's professional employees were 3-1/2 years without a contract, and it was a bitterly contested election, this is a dismal number. A colleague chalked the low turnout up to "apathy with a capital 'A'". But people with college degrees tend to vote--according to the US Census Bureau, over 94% of registered voters with bachelor degrees or higher voted in the 2004 elections. Assuming that almost all job categories represented by PSC require a bachelor's degree if not higher, there should have been a huge return on ballots.

Clearly, neither the New Caucus nor the CUNY Alliance spoke to the majority of the membership. On one hand, the incumbent leadership has been militant yet ineffective in bargaining with the City University of New York, and was at the helm when members' health benefits took a plunge. On the other hand, the upstart and well-organized alternative ran a largely negative campaign with no concrete strategy how it would do better. We can all go back and forth as to the precise factors, but in the end, we have to chalk up the low vote to Disengagement with a capital 'D'.

More worrisome, however, is that there were so few voters compared to the potential number of voters. According to the union, there are over 19,000 individuals in job categories represented by PSC-CUNY. Minus the retiree chapter—over 2,000 people—PSC-CUNY has about 11,500 dues paying members. Comparing the union membership to the job category membership, we see that more than 1/3 of the individuals in PSC-CUNY job categories are 'agency fee' payers, i.e. not in the union. The 5600 votes cast by active members are looking punier and punier by the moment.

With the elections and the current contract debacle almost behind us, it is time for the re-elected PSC-CUNY leadership to redirect its efforts. People who know me know that I agree with the broader political perspective of the New Caucus—that we need to improve the lot of adjuncts; that immigration reform will be good for CUNY, both in terms of our student numbers and faculty hiring (my department's masters programs have been eviscerated by new INS rules); that reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws is a CUNY issue (that's a future blog); and other issues. But we currently have a 'disconnect' between an activist leadership and a disengaged membership—the shoemaker's children are going shoeless. If PSC's lackluster performance in building an involved membership continues, lawmakers will eventually realize how weak its underpinnings are, and much of the legislative support that PSC has built will evaporate.

Assuming the current contract proposal is approved by all parties involved, we have until September 2007 to prepare for the next contract battle. In the next few postings, I'll discuss some concrete steps the PSC, and we as its members, can take to strengthen the union and our bargaining position.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Taylor Law and the Offer We Can't Refuse

Investors on Wall Street know it, the banks and credit card companies know it, certainly Tony Soprano and Paulie Walnuts know it. "It" is the time value of money—that a dollar in your hand today is worth more than that dollar in your hand tomorrow. When people borrow your money, they should give you more back when they repay you. It's a basic principle of modern economic society. But like the fictional racketeers on HBO, the management of the City University of New York (CUNY) has made its employees an offer they can't refuse: give CUNY an interest-free loan for over 3.5 years.

The public and quasi-public agencies of New York State expect their employees to forget the time value of money when it comes to contract negotiations. Yes, after a contract agreement is reached, the employee receives retroactive pay back to the contract start date, but not the lost interest from that retroactive pay. The retroactive pay is money that the public agency has 'borrowed' from its employees, and there is a big financial motive for CUNY, and other public institutions, to drag out negotiations and extend those loans.

As an example, the faculty and professional staff of CUNY, represented by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), have been working without a contract since October 31, 2002, i.e., have seen no raises since then. The proposed contract between CUNY and PSC-CUNY is:
· Year 1: a one-time, non-recurring sum of $800 (pro-rated for part-timers), and not included in the base pay;
· Year 2: an increase of 2.5% (the Year 1 $800 lump sum not included in this calculation);
· Year 3: an increase of 2.75% (the Year 1 $800 lump sum not included in this calculation);
· Year 4: an increase of 3% (the Year 1 $800 lump sum not included in this calculation);
At the same time, the US Department of Labor estimated the Consumer Price Index for the metropolitan New York area as 2.6 % in 2002, 3.1% in 2003, 3.5% in 2004, and 3.9% in 2005. So far, the CPI has been hovering around 3.7% for 2006. Based on figures from "Teachers in NYC's Institutions of Higher Learning" by Andrew Beveridge for the Gotham Gazette, the average pay for CUNY full-time faculty is $70,101.

Assuming the contract finally kicks in by July 1st, 2006, if we calculate the interest on the backpay based on these figures, CUNY owes each full-time faculty member an average of $299.32*. This is not retroactive pay, this is the interest on that retroactive pay—about the size of a decent tax rebate these days. According to PSC-CUNY, it has 6,582 faculty members, which mean that CUNY owes full-time faculty $1,970,110.40 in interest.

The US government's CPI figures are notoriously low, however, because they include Pennsylvania in the NY Metro region. The New York Education Department specifies much higher bond interest rates for educational projects in the New York City area (4.875 % in 2002, 4.75% in 2003, 4.375% in 2004, and 4.375% in 2005). Because CUNY is an educational institution, and its employees are lending it money, this is a fairer interest rate. Recalculating the interest on the back pay at these rates, CUNY owes an average of $388.05 to each full-time faculty member, or $2,554,128.52 to the full-time faculty.

This only accounts for full-time faculty. There are approximately 2,800 other full-time professional employees in CUNY, as well as almost 10,000 part-time employees covered by the PSC agreement. I don't have the average pay figures for these other employees, but conservatively, CUNY owes the employees represented by PSC-CUNY close to $3.5 million in interest. For this kind of largesse, PSC-CUNY should get a university building named after it!

The Taylor Law allows public and quasi-public agencies in New York State to extort these interest-free loans from its employees through negotiation delays. This gives management an incentive to delay contract resolutions. When contract between CUNY and the PSC expired October 31st, 2002, CUNY's management waited for over two years before making its first economic offer--all the while, not having to pay interest on the retroactive pay it was borrowing from its employees. I previously offered some reforms that are needed for the Taylor Law (see "It's Time To Reform The Taylor Law"). Here's another one:

Taylor Law Reform #4: Take the financial motive out of delay tactics. Retroactive pay for late resolved contracts should include interest based on New York State Educational Bond rates.
Obviously, the longer a contract negotiation drags out, the more the public agency will owe its employees in interest. This will remove the financial incentive for management to delay.

The Taylor Law was intended to provide an environment of good-faith and timely resolution to contract and pay disputes for public employees, while minimizing strikes by those employees. Until the Taylor Law makes both public employees and employers suffer from delays in contract resolution, it will continue to be an unfair law, and fail as good public policy.

* If you want my calculations for the interest owed on retroactive pay, write me at, and I'll send you my spreadsheet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's Time to Reform the Taylor Law!

Public employees in New York State, including faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) are covered by the Taylor Law (officially known as the 'Public Employees Fair Employment Act'). There are several aspects to the Taylor Law, but the most cited is that it is a crime for New York State public employees to go on strike. Well, actually, the law says "no public employee or employee organization shall cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike", so just saying "We oughta strike!" is breaking the law.

The Taylor Law is being used by government and public agency executives as a hammer to force New York State's public employees to work years without pay raises, and then to accept lower-than-inflation wage increases. By June, 2005, fully one-third of the members of the New York State United Teachers, the umbrella organization for education-related state employees, were working without contracts.

In this political climate, trying to repeal the Taylor Law, or amend it to permit job actions, is a waste of energy, particularly after the transit workers' strike of December 2005. No state legislator planning on re-election is going to vote to allow public employees to strike. But the lapsed contract of CUNY's employees in the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY) provides plenty of examples of how public sector management uses the Taylor Law to delay negotiations and drag out contract resolutions.

Management Practice #1: What Deadline?
The last contract between CUNY and the PSC expired October 31st, 2002--almost 3-1/2 years ago! CUNY's management did not make its first economic offer until December 1, 2004—more than 2 years after the contract expired. That's 762 days later—even with weekends, vacations, and holidays, that means it took CUNY's management over 400 work days to come up with its offer of a 1.5% total increase for four years. Whether an inability to calculate an offer, or a willful delay, neither reflect well on the CUNY administration. The former shows a lack of productivity at 80th Street, the latter a cynical but skillful manipulation of the Taylor Law, because employees had no recourse but to wait for an offer.

Reform #1A: Management must make an economic offer 60 days before the expiration of a contract.
There's nothing that says management won't make a ridiculously low starting offer, like CUNY's management did, but at least this will remove one delaying tactic from their arsenal. There's no defense for a two-year delay for an economic offer.

Reform #1B: If a new agreement isn't reached within 60 days after the expiration of a contract, all decision-makers must meet weekly in contract negotiations until an agreement is reached.
This is mostly to force timely and regular negotiation sessions, instead of dragging out time between meetings. This will cut two ways, because sometimes unions delay meetings. The idea is that, if the negotiators are busy people, they'll come to a deal more quickly rather than meet weekly to accomplish nothing.

Management Practice #2: No, We Don't Feel Your Pain!
On October 27, 2003, almost one year into the lapsed contract, the CUNY Board of Trustees voted a 40% pay increase for Matthew Goldstein, the Chancellor of CUNY. In addition, various vice-chancellors and college presidents at CUNY received pay raises at this same time. The premise was that these administrators had achieved productivity savings and met performance goals. Somehow, these savings and goals were achieved without the help of CUNY employees, who were still laboring without a contract (one of these performance goals must have been to string out the contract negotiations). No matter the public rationale, management was rewarded while dragging out a contract resolution. Any behaviorist will tell you that rewarding bad behavior begets more of that behavior.

Reform #2: While any previous contracts have lapsed and a new agreement has not been reached, executive level raises must be deferred.
For the Taylor Law to work as public policy, it has to be seen as fair—yes, public employees are not allowed to strike, but neither is management allowed to 'pile on'. Currently, only the union employees suffer financially from dragged out negotiations. Instead of rewarding dilatory negotiations on the part of management, the Taylor Law should make both sides suffer when contracts are not negotiated in a timely fashion. Any delay on management's part would also hurt management's members.

Management Practice #3: Sometimes a Deal is not a Deal
Before the NYC Transit Strike in December, 2005, Governor George Pataki pointedly refused to be involved in the contract negotiations. After the first day of the strike, a tentative deal was reached between the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Transit Workers Union (TWU). Governor Pataki then vetoed the deal, even though he had appointed the chair of the MTA, Peter Kalikow, and Kalikow had agreed to the deal.

During the CUNY contract negotiations, a 'framework' of an agreement had been reached in November, 2005, only to have CUNY management back away from the deal. CUNY's management claimed that it didn't have the final say in the contract negotiations, but instead, needed approval from the City and the State, both of whom fund CUNY. Up to that point, City and State representatives had not been part of the negotiations. Predictably, both the City and the State balked at some of the items in the 'framework', and a settlement was delayed another five months.

This is a newly discovered tactic available to management through the Taylor Law, and it serves only one purpose--to let union negotiators think they have a deal, and then hit them with one last 'gotcha'! It's basically a sucker punch, serving only to throw negotiators off-guard and to dispirit public employees who have no other legal recourse in their negotiations.

Reform #3: Authorized decision-makers from all parties, including the City and the State, must be present at deal-making negotiations.
This is particularly an issue with quasi-government organizations like the MTA and CUNY. Without the presence of all decision-makers, this current law provides an additional layer of unaccountability on the part of management to make a deal

The Taylor Law should not be a weapon
In return for minimizing the disruption of services to the public, the Taylor Law, as public policy, has to provide an environment of good-faith and timely resolution to contract and pay disputes for public employees. More and more, however, the managements in various public and quasi-public agencies are using the Taylor Law as a bludgeon against their employees to drag out negotiations and offer lower-than-inflation pay increases. All the penalties and 'downside' are on the part of the employees. The Taylor Law is currently an unfair law, and it needs to be reformed. We need to press our lawmakers to make these reforms.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why I Am Voting for the New Caucus (mostly)

Even though I am active in the Baruch Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), I am a member of neither the New Caucus nor the CUNY Alliance—I didn't even sign either of their petitions (I don't sign slate petitions). And so I have been trying to decide how to vote in the current election for university-wide union leadership positions.

Like many of you, I am dismayed by the proposed contract (is it a 'proposed contract' yet, or still just the 'framework'?). As one union loyalist so pithily stated in an email, "This contract stinks"! The CUNY administration has outmaneuvered the PSC both in the negotiations and controlling the public discourse. But this should not be a big surprise…

The CUNY Administration has outmaneuvered the University Faculty Senate (UFS) in opening the School of Professional Studies (SPS) and offering an online baccalaureate through the SPS—despite repeated UFS objections. The CUNY Administration outmaneuvered Baruch's previous president, former State Comptroller Ned Regan, to give Baruch's summer revenue sharing funds to CUNY, and to make Baruch shoulder 80% of CUNY's $24 million shortfall in 2003. So the PSC's contract travails were to be expected. In the game of institutional management and politics, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is one of its deftest, smartest practitioners—he's playing master-level chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. For this contract, the PSC leadership was simply outplayed.

Just as the CUNY Administration has controlled much of the public discourse around the contract, so has the upstart CUNY Alliance controlled the discourse around the PSC elections. The CUNY Alliance has run a better 'ground game' in this election campaign, especially in its skillful use of email and a superior website to get out its message. In contrast, the New Caucus faltered tactically not only in the contract negotiations, but also in its election campaign, partially by taking neither their opposition nor its message seriously at first, and partially by putting their message out through slow, hardcopy campaign material. I want a union leadership with not only vision, but a good tactical sense, so I went to the election debate at Baruch with some thought that, if the CUNY Alliance could back up their tactics with some vision, they might get my vote (my colleagues on the Baruch PSC Exec Committee will be horrified at this disclosure).

Instead, I came away from the debate realizing that the CUNY Alliance campaign had superior form, but not content. I had two concerns. One was, with its superior control of the discourse during the election, why hadn't the CUNY Alliance candidates brought these same skills to bear to help the PSC when the last contract had lapsed? Some of the CUNY Alliance candidates were still union officials during that time. Contributing their information propagation skills to the contract campaign would have been a great help to the membership, but we saw no evidence of that.

Second was the CUNY Alliance's approach to conflict. The CUNY Alliance has a great list of promises on its platform—I thought I was reading the New Caucus platform. Tactically, however, the CUNY Alliance's main focus has been to run a negative campaign more fitting of The Patriot Returns, CUNY's version of the Drudge Report, than of a union's leadership. The main message of the CUNY Alliance is that they will 'negotiate better' if they were running the union. During internal conflicts in the PSC, the way they negotiated was to quit their leadership positions, and then start up a highly divisive and negative election campaign. I don't characterize this approach as 'negotiating better', and such actions have only played into the CUNY Administration's delaying tactics on the contract.

Conversely, the PSC leadership has shown that, despite its occasional stridency, it does not have a tin ear to its memberships concerns, and will compromise on its positions when the membership calls for it. Several years ago, faculty complained that the 'one scale fits all' salary approach was hindering recruitment of faculty in more market-sensitive fields. In the first contract it negotiated, the current PSC leadership agreed to allow faculty to be paid up to 65% over the salary base. Similarly, the PSC at first vociferously opposed any extension of the tenure clock from 5 to 7 years. In the past year, however, at the behest of the membership in senior colleges, the PSC has agreed to work with CUNY to have the New York State legislature extend the tenure clock. In return, junior untenured faculty will get an additional 12 credits release time, because the extended tenure clock implies increased research output. So despite its long term positions, the PSC's leadership has shown that it recognizes that the membership may have different concerns, and has responded appropriately to those concerns.

The New Caucus has invested much time and energy in a legislative agenda, and this agenda is sometimes the butt of The Patriot Returns' brutal lampooning. We are seeing some of this legislative work paying off, however. This year, the NYS Legislature passed the most CUNY-friendly budget in 10 years, although we still expect the Governor to veto some of it. The Legislature (including the Republican-controlled Senate) also passed a bill to provide serious reforms to the Taylor Law—that's the law that allows public and quasi-public agencies like CUNY to drag out contract negotiations with few negative consequences. Again, the Governor vetoed it, but this time next year we may well have a governor who is not running for President who will sign the bill. Christine Quinn, the New York City Council Speaker, along with multiple City Council members, has publicly pledged more funding for the City's share of CUNY. The legislative bodies are the ones who commit the funds for CUNY; a legislative agenda is a necessity, and the New Caucus has been succeeding in that agenda.

So, yes, the proposed contract stinks. But I think that the current leadership has shown that it doesn't take its ball and go home, but sticks it out to negotiate what it can, however bloodied and bruised by both management and union colleagues. I have decided to bet that the current leadership recognizes that it must come up with more effective tactics in negotiating the next contract. The CUNY Alliance has run an energetic campaign, but its divisive and negative approach gives me pause, because its campaign style is the only indication we have of how they would manage the union.

In light of this, I mailed in my ballot voting for the New Caucus candidates: Barbara Bowen (President), Steve London (First Vice President), Arthurine DeSola (Secretary), and Mike Fabricant (Treasurer).

P.S. I don't vote slates, and there are individuals from both slates deserving of your vote—look closely through the lists.

P.P.S. If you are a PSC-CUNY member, and you did not receive your ballot by April 10th, call the American Arbitration Association at 800-529-5218 for a duplicate ballot. Your ballot must be returned and received by AAA no later than 5 pm, April 24th. The AAA will count the ballots on April 25th.