CUNY Faculty Union an Chancellor Push for Budget Increase
By Clifford Michel
CUNY Chancellor James Milliken vouched for university faculty on February 10 when providing testimony to the New York State Legislature in Albany. Milliken requested to increase CUNY’s budget by $221.7 million dollars to fund various initiatives, most notably was his call for the state to budget retroactive pay for CUNY faculty and staff.
The Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents over 25,000 faculty and staff, has worked without a contract since October of 2010. This is largely due to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who avoided settling union contracts that expired from 2006 to 2010.
“Our ability to attract and retain talented faculty is compromised by our inability today to reach a collective bargaining agreement,” said Milliken. “We cannot make an agreement we cannot pay for. It is essential we get state support for an agreement that will be in alignment with those of other state unions, including retroactive increases that will recognize the commitment our faculty and staff have made over the last six years.”
PSC leaders also provided testimony to state legislature, showing unity in a year of high tension between the union and administration.
The largest demonstration by far was in late September during the university’s Board of Trustees’ first meeting of the academic year. Nearly a 1,000 union members marched outside of Baruch College, setting the tone between the two bodies for the year.
In late January union members left a shortened Board of Trustees meeting chanting: “no contract, no peace.”
Barbara Bowen, PSC-CUNY President, wrote a scathing letter to CUNY administration on January 26 and accused the university’s brass for taking credit of CUNY’s widely regarded achievements, while failing to negotiate a contract with its professors.
“During the more than five years since our last raise, costs in New York City have soared, CUNY enrollment has grown, salaries at competing institutions have kept pace with inflation, and CUNY faculty and staff have been required to take on bigger workloads as initiatives by college presidents and CUNY administration proliferate,” Bowen wrote. “We doubt that any of you would work at your positions for five years without a raise, and you clearly did not expect a chancellor to work at the pay rate of 2009.”
Bowen, who demanded that a contract be offered by the end of the Fall semester, told administration that the union is prepared to escalate their demonstrations.
“We are prepared to escalate our campaign this spring in every way necessary until a fair, progressive contract settlement is reached. A delay of more than five years by trustees who claim to have the best interests of the University at heart is unconscionable,” Bowen concluded.
College of Staten Island professors have also been active in the struggle for a new contract.
“CUNY is very concerned about the fact that the city does not seem to be paying attention to at least some of the needs that the university has to sign the contract,” Dr. Fred Naider, CSI’s Provost, told a representative of Cuomo’s administration during a town hall meeting in early February. “It is very difficult to maintain a competitive faculty with the pay structure that we have.”
Professors also placed a sign in the front row from PSC-CUNY, which read “CUNY needs a raise!”
Other significant requests from CUNY included about $54 million budgeting for 500 more full-time faculty to add to the university’s 7,000 professors. Administration also asked for $7 million to expand and improve its online class services.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been silent on the union negotiations and didn’t mention it in the State of the State and State of the City address, respectively.
Cuomo announced his continued support for CUNY 2020, a competitive challenge grant for CUNY colleges.
de Blasio announced $30 million to strengthen STEM programs at community colleges and a little over $1 million for the Fatherhood Academy, a program that supports young fathers from the ages of 18 to 24.
If legislators include funding for wage increases, CUNY administrators are still responsible for negotiating a new contract.
The New York State Legislature is expected to adopt a budget in March and the fiscal year will begin in April.