NEW YORK – Some 50 professors from the City University of New York were arrested yesterday while demanding a contract that will help CUNY retain excellent professors, ensuring a quality education for the 500,000 CUNY students across the city. They blocked the doors to the midtown office building housing CUNY’s central administration and refused to move until the university management made a fair offer to resolve their long-expired union contract.
CUNY negotiators, responding to the union’s increasing pressure, made an economic offer at a bargaining session earlier in the day. The union’s initial response was that the proposal is completely inadequate and will further endanger academic quality at CUNY.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the union of CUNY faculty and staff, joined the blockade with her colleagues. Before the action, she addressed the protesters and a legal rally of 800 other union members.
“Working people, people of color, the poor of New York City-these are our students,” she said. “Professors and academic staff are essential for a first-rate education, and CUNY needs to offer a contract that allows the University to retain outstanding faculty and staff. CUNY’s offer fails the half-million low- and middle-income New Yorkers who rely on CUNY for a college education. The offer fails to keep up with inflation or to make other improvements CUNY students urgently need. Without real progress toward competitive salaries, CUNY will be unable to attract and keep the faculty and staff our students deserve. We took a stand today for educational justice for the working people of New York.”
Five years have passed since the PSC-CUNY contract expired, and salary rates at CUNY haven’t increased in six years. Over that time, CUNY’s pay has become uncompetitive with comparable colleges and universities in the region. CUNY academic departments are reporting problems attracting and keeping faculty; and professors and advisors are less able to give students the attention they need.
The union, fed up with CUNY management’s stalling and the lack of State support for the contract, has announced plans for a strike authorization vote and intensified its campaign with actions like a recent rally outside the CUNY chancellor’s home and today’s civil disobedience.
“The future of our students’ education is at stake in this contract. Our action today is part of a long struggle for racial and educational justice. We will not move without an offer that will sustain quality at CUNY and pay us fairly for the important work we do,” said Bowen.
The Professional Staff Congress (PSC/CUNY), affiliated with NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, NEA and the AFL-CIO, represents more than 27,000 faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York and the CUNY Research Foundation.
CUNY’s 25,000 faculty and professional staff make college possible for a half million NYC students. Their contract with CUNY expired in 2010. 7,600 full-time CUNY faculty earn salaries that lag far behind those at comparable universities in the region, that don’t cover 6 years of inflation and rent hikes. 4,400 professional staff and 13,000 low-wage, part-time adjunct faculty, who teach more than half CUNY’s courses, also haven’t had a raise in 6 years.
After five years without a contract and six years without a raise for its employees, CUNY is becoming less able to recruit and retain faculty; and professors and advisors are less able to give students the attention they need. The faculty and staff are demanding public investment and are mobilizing for a strike authorization vote.
CUNY is the country’s largest urban public university system. It is funded by both the State (75 percent) and the City (25 percent). CUNY workers are public employees. The union negotiates its contracts with CUNY, but State and City contract patterns influence the contract terms.
The fight for a PSC-CUNY contract is also a struggle for racial and educational justice for their students. More than half of CUNY undergraduates have family incomes of less than $30,000. Three-quarters are Latino, Black or Asian. For hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in an economy that offers few other chances or protections, CUNY represents the only viable route out of permanent poverty. Professors and academic staff are essential for a first-rate education, and CUNY needs to offer a contract that allows the University to retain outstanding professors and staff.
Photo: David Sanders/PSC-CUNY