Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

CUNY Union Lawsuit Fails; Workers Need a Strike

The faculty and staff union’s request for a court injunction to reinstate 2,800 workers laid off by CUNY earlier this summer has been denied. By relying on the lawsuit instead of preparing for a strike, the union leadership has failed to protect the jobs — and health insurance — of its members.

Olivia Wood

August 14, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: PSC CUNY

On July 1, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) filed a lawsuit against the City University of New York (CUNY) on the grounds that the university failed to protect employment “to the greatest extent possible,” one of the stipulations for the funds the university received from the CARES Act. On August 12, a federal judge denied the union’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced the university to reinstate the 2,800 part-time employees laid off in June. Without the injunction, these 2,800 workers will likely remain unemployed until January at the earliest. The judge also indicated that he would likely be willing to dismiss the case entirely. 

Union leadership presented this lawsuit to members as a powerful rebuke to CUNY’s pandemic cuts. However, a lawsuit puts justice into the hands of the court, not the workers. As former CUNY professor and alum Audre Lorde is famous for saying, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Lawsuits attempt to use a bourgeoise tool — the courts — to undo bourgeoise law. While small gains are possible using this method, it will never liberate the working class. Workers at CUNY need to use our own tools, such as strikes and work stoppages, to first protect each other’s health, livelihoods, and access to care during the immediate national crisis and then to fight for better working conditions, a fully funded, equitable university, and a renewed militancy among NYC labor unions that will last beyond Covid-19. 

Despite the leadership’s refusal to use — or even mention — these tools of workers’ power, rank and file union members at CUNY have been discussing the need for a strike for months. Union members organizing as Rank and File Action (RAFA) have been circulating a petition calling on the PSC leadership to initiate a strike authorization vote since early July, but conversations began long before that. We rightfully expected a wave of adjunct layoffs as spring semester contracts expired in May, graduate students need funding extensions, and everyone needs guaranteed health insurance and protection against being ordered back to work before it is safe. 

However, the PSC leadership refused to take radical action, and they did not mention even the possibility of strike preparation until July 25. In the PSC’s statement, they give CUNY until August 26, the first day of classes, to meet their demands. Waiting so long — and relying on the potential success of the lawsuit — leaves thousands of workers in dire straits. With the failure of the lawsuit, the vast majority of these workers are still unemployed, with no recourse to get their jobs back before school starts. And the union bureaucrats should have foreseen this. Discussions in Congress over both the CARES Act and a potential future stimulus package have made it abundantly clear that both major political parties favor giving more money to businesses than to workers, and the money given to workers should be as little as possible for as much political gain as possible. A court decision preventing layoffs under the stimulus package would throw a wrench into this politicking and put far more organizations than the City University of New York at risk. Of course the judge argued that the CARES Act does not guarantee continued employment, despite the instruction to protect employment “to the greatest extent possible.” 

These 2,800 layoffs did not need to happen. It was more than “possible” to keep every single one of those workers employed. The money is there, and instructors are sorely needed; enrollment at some CUNY colleges is actually up this fall, and research shows that smaller class sizes in remote learning are necessary to maintain the same quality of instruction. While CUNY is forcing thousands into unemployment and short-changing its students, the university has also recently hired or is about to hire several new executives, all with six-figure salaries and exorbitant benefit packages. CUNY’s Chancellor, at the top of the executive compensation plan, receives an annual salary of $670,000, an additional housing stipend of $7,500 per month, a car, and a paid driver. His housing stipend alone could pay the annual salary of more than three adjuncts. Yet, the judge argued, the CARES stipulation only mandates a “generalized duty” and only refers to employees “in the aggregate.” The judge’s ruling renders this language effectively meaningless, allowing universities to define “possible” however they wish. 

With coronavirus cases, unemployment claims, and eviction cases all on the rise, there is no time for a strategy of gradual escalations. People’s lives depend on strong, swift action. The PSC must call for a strike authorization vote immediately (not as soon as “possible”), so that the workers of CUNY can use our own power, our own tools, our own strength, to fight against the university administration and the politicians that govern our ever-shrinking budgets. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

Labor Movement

Why Won’t PSC-CUNY Stand with Palestine Now?

While other higher education unions are going on strike in defense of their workers and against the genocide in Gaza, the bureaucratic leadership of PSC-CUNY just crushed a resolution calling on the university to divest from Israel and to drop the charges against Palestinian activists arrested on April 30. 

James Dennis Hoff

May 24, 2024
A sign for the University of California at Santa Cruz with a line of UAW signs in front of it

Dispatch from Day One of the UC Santa Cruz Picket Line for Palestine

Left Voice member and City University of New York worker Olivia traveled to Santa Cruz for UAW 4811’s historic strike to talk to workers. This is her dispatch from the first day of the strike.

Olivia Wood

May 22, 2024
Signs and banners at the picket line in front of the UC Santa Cruz in May, 2024. UC student workers are beginning a historic strike for Palestine, against genocide.

University of California Student Workers Begin Historic Political Strike against Repression and Genocide

This week, student and postdoctoral workers at the University of California began a historic strike in response to the brutal, violent repression of students, faculty, and staff protesting for Palestine. The action marks an important escalation of the labor movement’s struggle in defense of Palestine and the right to protest.

Olivia Wood

May 21, 2024
A rally in Brooklyn, people hold up UAW signs

University of California Academic Workers Authorize Strike to Defend the Right to Protest

48,000 workers are one step closer to going on strike to demand that charges and academic sanctions be dropped for the students and faculty who protest the genocide in Palestine and UC’s financial and academic ties to Israel.

Madeleine Freeman

May 16, 2024

MOST RECENT

Attack on Pro-Palestinian Protestors at UMich Latest Example of Democrats Defending Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Capitalist apologists from the Democratic Party have chosen their business partners in Israel’s far-right government over Palestinian lives. In Ann Arbor, those same so-called “progressive” Democrats decided to bring felony charges against protestors earlier this week, encouraging harsh police violence against the University of Michigan encampment.

Ryan McCarty

May 24, 2024
Activists in Detroit speaking at a press conference condemning repression of the pro-Palestine movement on May 20, 2024.

Detroit Activists Hold Press Conference to Condemn Repression of Pro-Palestine Protesters

Detroit Will Breathe organized a press conference to discuss the police violence and repression against pro-Palestine protesters. The movement must stand in solidarity and unite to combat the increase of repression.

Kyle Thibodeau

May 23, 2024

CUNY Workers Should Support the Five Demands of the Student Encampment

As the PSC CUNY Delegate Assembly prepares to debate a vote to endorse the five demands of the CCNY Gaza Solidarity Encampment, some members of CUNY on Strike penned the following rebuttal to the bureaucratic union leadership that has been trying to distance itself from the struggle against the genocide in Gaza. 

A Russian tank fires toward Kharkiv on the May 10 offensive against Ukraine.

Russia’s Offensive in Ukraine May Be a Turning Point in the War

Russia’s May 10 offensive in Ukraine may be a turning point in the dynamics of the war, and the specter of Ukraine’s defeat is exposing the cracks that divide the Western powers.

Claudia Cinatti

May 21, 2024