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.


Curse of the Undead said...

Yep, in negotiations, it's all about the Leverage, baby.

You put the other side in a position so that the best option for them is to do what you want.

The CUNY Union has been completely PATHETIC in this regard. Did they even have a plan to gain leverage ?? SUCH CLUELESS LOSERS.

I mean, what's so tough ? The bottom line is this; Goldstein and his cronies get to wallow on their fat asses and collect giant paychecks at Der Headqvarters thanks to Labor. They don't run CUNY, the faculty and staff do.
Again, a complete failure on the part of the Union to get on top of this reality and put it to work for the benefit of the members.

But perhaps I assume too has not been conclusively proven that the Union Leadership is part of the reality based community...

walter.dufresne said...

Having watched the PSC these last seventeen years - through both the Unity Caucus and the New Caucus - I'm optimistic that the union's become both open-minded about its tactics and willing to learn from its failures. My own clear sense of direction is towards increased participation in state and local electoral politics and reforming the Taylor Law. I'm happy to hear others' suggestions, too. In every case, the PSC seems to beat the pants off the faculty's own governance body, the UFS, when it comes to struggling with 80th Street over improving the teaching and learning conditions of faculty and students.

Curse of the Undead said...


Not surprising that the UFS can't make headway. Again, it's a matter of leverage; the right concentration of power at the right place. Most faculty members just don't have that kind of power. The clerk who submits the payroll so that everyone gets paid ? Now THAT GUY has leverage...
With all that talk of "job action" during the contract talks, why didn't the Union figure that out ? You don't need to have a complete walkout and go through all that. Get the right 10-20 people at each college on board, and CUNY will get the message real quick....

walter.dufresne said...

Okay, so I'm slow on the uptake (and an adjunct to boot), but I'm genuinely fascinated by the tactic that a key group of people on a campus, numbering less than two dozen, might lead the way in either organizing job actions or in actually conducting those job actions. I'd reflexively think that group might be the elected PSC chapter leaders for that campus, but that could be all wrong.

I've pointed out before that my best understanding of the statutory penalties in the Taylor Law (loss of pay for each day off work, further loss of pay as an equivalent penalty) are less severe than inflation, that an entire week of striking, and the concomitant loss of two whole weeks of pay, is considerably less damaging than what inflation has done in the last nine months, less damaging than contractually locking in a permanent loss to inflation in our wages.

But how do we get to that point? What are the best ways to get there? I don't think the PSC leadership is at all fearful of jails and fines, but I can't say the same for my colleagues in the matter of fines.

Curse of the Undead said...


You're not slow on the uptake, it's just a matter of re-evaluation. That's why I'm pretty critical of the PSC. Do they evaluate how their tactics work ? Are they being pro-active, or reactive ? Are they attacking the opponent at his strongest point, or are they looking for the weak spots, the lynch pins that can give them the upper hand ?

I just don't see much of that kind of thinking at the PSC. Cavalry charges are glorious, heroic, and all that...but they don't accomplish much when they charge machine guns.

As for the Taylor Law, if I'm on the CUNY board, I'm going to try to make it LOOK like EVERY option the PSC has ultimately runs right into the Taylor Law, and if the Union is stupid enough to oblige me by going that way on their own, so much the better for me...I've got them right where I want them.

We both know there are plenty of other options to gain the necessary leverage needed to reach a fair and equitable situation.

This leads to your question "how do we get to that point ?" . The first step, and the most important, is to ask that question with an open mind, isn't it ?

BTW, I'm not faculty....

Curse of the Undead said...

And just to finish off this thought...

That's why Historian's post is great. He proposes this idea ; the Cuny Admin answers to other politicians. Why don't we get some politicians that are beholden to US ?
Moving in this direction renders the Taylor law irrelevent as an obstacle, but gives the Union more leverage, perhaps to even one day
to have enough political strength to change the law itself.

And the beautful thing is that management has relied on Taylor as a club for so long that once you take it out of their hands, they are stuck.

There are plenty of options available once you start thinking in terms of Practical Politics.

For instance, Have you heard that the big buzzword around CUNY the past few years has been "productivity" ?
In fact, many Cuny bigwigs have been given large raises based on "their" productivity improvements. And we all know where the increased productivity really came from.

Now, considering practical politics, what sort of leverage could the Union generate from this ?

THIS is the kind of stuff the Union should be looking at.

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Anonymous said...

The fatal flaw in the logic of Historian is the passage---it doesn't matter who heads the union, what matters is how the union navigates. To believe there is no connection between administration and policy is both antihistorical and foolish.