CUNY Union Holds “Wake-Up Call” Protest Outside Chancellor’s Home

By Clifford Michel

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Sounds of alarm clocks and bullhorns shook CUNY Chancellor James Milliken’s apartment as hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff held a “wake-up call” protest for a new contract on October 1.

The Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents over 25,000 faculty and staff, has worked without a contract since October 2010, largely due to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who avoided settling union contracts that expired from 2006 to 2010.

Because they don’t have a new contract, many CUNY professors have not received a pay raise in six years and lack other basic protection.

“Milliken must wake up to the growing crisis at CUNY,” said PSC President and Queens College professor Barbara Bowen. “CUNY cannot remain a vital force for educational and racial justice in New York City if it cannot recruit and retain the faculty and staff our students need. The failure to support our contract is ultimately a failure to support CUNY students. That’s why we will not give up.”

Many professors dressed up in academic robes and carried ringing alarm clocks, pots and pans, horns, and vuvuzelas to the demonstration. Many chanted “No contract, No peace,” “Education is a Right! Fight, Fight, Fight,” and “We’re Here, We’re CUNY, Get Used to it!”

The union has applied political pressure to Chancellor Milliken since he was appointed in 2014 and is planning several more protests in the coming months.

Milliken has said in a letter that a new CUNY contract is his “highest priority,” but that the state Legislature didn’t provide enough money to fund a contract this year.

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 a number of initiatives, most notably his call for the state to budget retroactive pay for CUNY faculty and staff.

“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.”

Despite his efforts, Bowen said that as CUNY’s chancellor, it’s Milliken’s responsibility to secure funding for CUNY.

“The right thing to do is to secure investment by New York State in a fair contract at CUNY. That’s Milliken’s job, and so far he hasn’t done it,” said Bowen.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been unreceptive to CUNY’s call for additional funding to fund a new contract.

“It’s up to CUNY, the way it’s up to SUNY, to settle their labor contract,” Cuomo told reporters in September in New York City. “They got the money, they have a budget, and they have to pay the salaries from their budget.”

A spokesman for CUNY attended the rally and insisted that settling a contract was the university’s top priority.

“We understand the frustration,” CUNY spokesman Mike Arena told POLITICO New York. “The contract issue is our highest priority. The chancellor has repeatedly made that clear to the university community. We’re working very diligently to identify resources to help us settle as soon as possible.”

PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen didn’t dismiss Milliken’s responsibility, despite the Cuomo administration’s lack of economic support.

“If Chancellor Milliken wants to separate himself from the economic austerity agenda that is behind New York State’s failure to fund our contract, then he will have to do what it takes to produce a decent economic offer,” Bowen wrote in an email to union members.

“Whether that means more effective advocacy with the State or a reduction of the management payroll and a reallocation of CUNY’s budget reserves.”

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