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.


Abdullah Uz Tansel said...

I think Bill is very right and appreciate him taking the time to thoroughly analyze the situation. I whole heartedly agree with him.
Abdullah Uz Tansel
Stat/CIS, Baruch College

Curse of the Undead said...

What fools these Academic Unioners be ! What gadzookerous tact they pursue, chasing the gossamer strands of their strategery....all for naught.

The power rests not with those coddled in the upper reaches of the Ivory tower, but those who labor anonymously in the stables and dungeons of the Academy....

Bill Ferns said...

I had to find the OED to figure out what my buddy here was saying, but he does have a point that the HEOs (i.e., the various ranks of 'Higher Education Officers' at CUNY) shoulder most of the day-to-day work. Many of them feel like they are the 'other' in CUNY. I'll be addressing some of the issues about HEOs, and adjuncts, too, in future postings.