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CUNY Rank-and-File Activists Fight for Safe Reopening

At the City University of New York (CUNY) tens of thousands of students are petitioning for more online classes, and in-person sections are getting canceled left and right due to low enrollment, leading dozens of part-time faculty to lose their jobs. Dissatisfied with the union leadership’s response, rank-and-file union members are taking matters into their own hands.

Left Voice

January 21, 2022
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As the Omicron variant of Covid-19 surges across the United States, universities all over the country have hastily made plans for how to respond. Many schools have chosen to begin the Spring 2022 semester fully online. Others are digging in their heels on commitments to a fully or mainly in-person semester. Students, faculty, and staff are fighting for their universities to provide high-quality masks, remote work accommodations, smaller class sizes, increased testing, vaccine access, and mask requirements.

At the City University of New York (CUNY), enrollments at the community colleges have reached record lows, tens of thousands of students are petitioning for more online classes, and in-person sections are getting canceled left and right due to low enrollment, leading dozens of part-time faculty to lose their jobs. Dissatisfied with the union leadership’s response, rank-and-file union members are taking matters into their own hands. Below, we repost their call for community members across New York City to join them in solidarity for two upcoming actions demanding a safe reopening that protects everyone’s health, studies, and employment.


As the spring semester approaches, CUNY faces a double crisis. The spread of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 has left many teachers, students, and staff members with questions about working safely on campus. Despite this, CUNY continues to insist on a return to 70% in-person instruction and work for the Spring semester. Workers and students are faced with the choice of risking exposure to the virus or losing their job/dropping out of college. 

This has led to a cataclysmic drop in enrollment. Community colleges are currently at 58% of last year’s enrollment figures, and senior colleges at 84%. In the face of this, CUNY administrators have responded with extreme callousness, encouraging mass course cancellations and in some departments effectively firing all adjuncts who don’t currently have a three-year appointment. Hundreds of people face losing their jobs, with new cancellations announced daily.

The PSC leadership has responded to the enrollment crisis by demanding that no courses get canceled; that CUNY use federal stimulus money to cover revenue drops; and that all staff remain on payroll. They’ve responded to health concerns with a poll on what a “safe return” means for members, and have sent a letter detailing demands to the Chancellor. There is little word, however, on what the union leadership plans to do if their demands are not met. Meanwhile, over 25,000 CUNY students have signed a petition for more online course options. We need a strategy for escalating action to protect vulnerable workers and students.

Rank and File Action joins concerned CUNY students, workers, and community members in calling for action now to demand:

  1. No class cancellations, no layoffs! Use federal pandemic funding to keep all classes open, all students enrolled, and all staff and faculty employed.
  2. Respond to student demands by providing more online course options and meeting accessibility needs.
  3. Allow staff and faculty to work remotely on request, in accordance with student needs–cancel the arbitrary mandate to keep 70% of classes and staff time in-person.
  4. Prioritize safety: provide detailed ventilation information, free medical-grade masks, and free rapid testing/home tests for all students, staff, and faculty.
  5. Full public funding of free tuition and support services for students, including mental wellness and accessibility; full transparency on how CUNY spends pandemic relief funds.

To expose CUNY’s outrageous disregard for workers and students and to publicize our demands, RAFA urges concerned community members to join two urgent actions next week:

#WelcomeBackFightBack Rally and press conference 

Monday, January 24, at 12 noon

At CUNY Central, 205 East 42nd Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) in Manhattan

#BrunchWithFelo action at CUNY chancellor’s home in Pelham

Saturday, January 29, at 12 noon

Meet at the Metro North train station in Pelham at 11:45am to march to the home of CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez at 142 Loring Avenue. Let’s make sure the chancellor and his neighbors hear how he is harming the health and safety of CUNY workers and students with his senseless 70% in-person mandate. As long as Felo insists on making CUNY unsafe, let’s make him uncomfortable. 

RSVP at tiny.cc/CUNY2022 for either or both actions, and share the word with all your CUNY colleagues, students, alumni, and members of other unions. Share the Facebook event. Make a plan with your comrades to attend as a group! Please stay safe with high-quality masks and appropriate distancing during these outdoor actions. Events will be live-streamed for those who are unable to attend in person. 

If you are part of a labor union or a student or community organization, fill out the RSVP form to endorse these urgent actions and demands. Follow RAFA on Twitter at @RanknFileAction and include any of the following hashtags in tweets about the event: #BrunchWithFelo #WelcomeBackFightBack #StrikeCUNY #NoLayoffsCUNY

These actions are just the beginning. We need to prepare for further escalation, up to and including a possible strike. To join the conversation or to get involved in the event planning, email [email protected].

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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