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.


Anonymous said...

Bill, thanks so much for the clarity and your understanding of the HEO plight. It hadn't occured to me that we might not be eligable for that $800. across the board "bonus". I am a bit depressed. Let's hire some more AVP's and additional assitants to help them.

Howard Ross said...

The CPI for NY and metro area from 3/1996 to 3/2006 rose 31.1% and there is abundant evidence that inflation will now accelerate---witness the rise in interest rates and the spread between 10 year TIPS and regular Treasury 10 year bonds. The real point: we are getting 9.5% over 58 months or 1.56% per annum compounded. The inflation rate from 3/2002 to 3/2006 is 14.2%---that's about a 5% decline in real income and purchasing power and our standard of living. With the New Caucus at the helm of the PSC we don't need enemies.

Bill Ferns said...

Howard is correct on the CPI figures--I found a site that gave regional figures, although I suspect they are still low. I've changed the figures in my posting.

Virtually all the contracts since the early 1970s have lost ground to inflation, including those contracts negotiated by the previous union leadership.

Professor LWF said...

I dunno. I can't say that I was EVER crazy about any contract when we got it. Seems to me it was always late, and always included those first two years of zero increase. I just don't see that there is any benefit in voting no. Symbolic gestures don't impress me. Let's move on.

Anonymous said...

You said we just had a referendum on the union leadership and they won. Well that referendum was done without knowledge of the terms of the proposed contract. If the terms of the settlement were known, they would have lost !! Consequently. there is a very good reason to vote "NO" on this prposed contract. My personal reason is that I don't like anyone taking my money without asking me. PSC's negotiating team agreed among themselves take our $800.00 plus 2% of our salary and put it in the welfare fund that is mismanaged by the same people.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how many people actually vote. Like an old dog kicked too many times by its cruel owner, many people are resigned to a process that does not work. If this is the case, a small minority may be given a chance to make this call for everyone.

Please vote!