I celebrated my 43rd birthday this October by starting a new job as an adjunct lecturer at The City University of New York (CUNY) and also by joining a union for the first time in my life. It was a first because I have never worked at a place where union membership was an option. Joining the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union at CUNY gave me a slight sense of relief. My union membership meant that for the first time there was going to be a workplace advocate for me should I ever need one. That sense of relief grew a bit stronger when right after I submitted my application to join the union I learned that the PSC negotiating team was in the process of bargaining with CUNY for our next contract.
I saw materials about union members’ demands for the new contract — specifically related to the 7K or Strike movement for adjunct faculty like myself — in a break room. I talked to some folks within the CUNY system who feel as I do, that the faculty, staff, and students at CUNY deserve much more from the institution and government overall.
On October 23rd, just weeks after I signed my membership application, the union announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the university. Eagerly, I read the Memorandum of Agreement to see whether or not the union was able to win the $7,000 minimum per three-credit course for adjuncts that they had been fighting for and I was disappointed to see that they had not even come close.
According to the proposal, I would earn only $5,500 per three-credit course by 2023. That is far below a living wage for teaching today in New York City, nevermind over three years from now. As I continued to read, I saw that the contract would also load me up with new hours of work controlled by the university, forcing me to potentially have to take on student advisement duties and other tasks imposed by CUNY representatives. When I finished reading the proposed contact, I shook my head and rolled my eyes. The contract is an 8,600-word capitulation to the city and state that have been underfunding the university for decades.
We need a new vision for how we organize as workers at CUNY and across New York City. There has been a wave of contract negotiations across the country as of late that have employed tactics from the Bargaining for the Common Good framework. This framework centers racial justice in bargaining demands. It broadens the negotiating process beyond worker wages and benefits. And it engages the community as a whole.
Imagine if we at CUNY bargained not just for what we the workers deserved but also for safe and affordable housing for all New York City residents. Imagine if we demanded that all CUNY students receive their education tuition-free and that they are paid a living wage while going to school. Imagine if we fought for citywide protections for our undocumented community members. Imagine if we made custodial, food service, office, and security staff’s demands front line issues in our fight for a respectable contract. Imagine if we fought for a living wage for all workers in New York City. Imagine if we fought with other community groups and stakeholders for a transformed city economy that works for all of us not just those at the top. Imagine if we demanded new laws that force the wealthy to pay an appropriate amount of taxes in the city and state and that these laws had teeth to force the rich to pay their fair share.
If this proposed contract proceeds to the membership for a vote I am calling on all of my colleagues to vote no.
And beyond voting no, let us use this historic moment to prepare for a strike, a strike that challenges the cold, dead heart that is the Taylor Law, a New York State law that suppresses public sector worker dissent. Let us fight for a contract for all stakeholders at CUNY and all residents of New York City. Let us invite all New Yorkers to join our struggle. And let us not give up until our demands are met.