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.