Pay and multiyear appointments at stake
Incorrect paychecks, no checks and improper implementation of the eligibility requirements for three-year adjunct appointments are just some of the problems many adjuncts have encountered since the implementation of the new contract. An investigation by the PSC’s contract enforcement department has uncovered several university-wide grievances, revealing that these aren’t isolated incidents.
“We’re filing more grievances now for improper implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement than we have in the past,” said Debra Bergen [retired], who has been directing the contract enforcement department at the PSC for more than two decades. Bergen notes that while certain provisions of the 2010 Memorandum of Agreement are complex, there is no excuse for the number of mistakes and failures by colleges that her department has had to address. “The PSC has to learn the new provisions and understand how they’re implemented in the same amount of time that the colleges do.... [CUNY has] had ample time.”
Starting in October, adjuncts began calling the union about ratification bonus checks that were falling well short of what they were owed. At the beginning of this year, many adjuncts were concerned they were getting paid at the incorrect rate once back pay was awarded. And the problems didn’t stop there. Adjuncts who had been teaching jumbo courses (large classes for which certain colleges and departments provide additional compensation and workload credit for) and adjuncts who had taught in programs and who receive appointments to an academic department were not properly being considered for three-year adjunct appointments. Adjuncts who taught in special programs but who had consistent service in a single academic department were also being improperly excluded for the longer appointments. The PSC contract enforcement department saw these violations occurring at several campuses and filed class-action grievances at the university level. These were being adjudicated as Clarion went to press.
For Stan Wine, a PSC adjunct grievance counselor, the contract problems mean constant phone calls at the union office. A typical day for him involves fielding unending phone calls on various issues that last anywhere between a few minutes to nearly an hour. “Without a doubt, since the acceptance of the new contract, this is the busiest that we’ve been,” Wine told Clarion.
One of the most common problems that emerged concerns adjuncts who taught nine or more contact hours across different campuses but were not receiving their full $1,000 signing bonus. The CUNY administration – despite giving assurances that it would – does not have a centralized system for noting how many classes adjuncts teach across different CUNY campuses. For example, if an adjunct taught two three-credit courses at Queens College and one three-credit class at Queensborough Community College, the adjunct might not receive the full bonus due to lack of coordination between campuses. Many adjuncts failed to receive correct back pay because campus payroll officers were manually entering adjustments that sometimes led to the wrong rates. Because of a manual mix-up, Wine noticed that his own check was short. Instead of a 8.7 percent raise, he got a 1.7 percent raise.
Wine, who teaches computer science, is inclined to double-check things, especially his paycheck when new rates roll out. “This is something that every member should do,” he said.
Another issue involves adjuncts who meet service requirements for a three-year appointment, but who were being told that they were not eligible. “It’s the most expanded part of the contract,” Ruben Rangel, a long-serving PSC adjunct grievance counselor, told Clarion. “It has the potential to change the way the university relates to long-serving adjuncts.”
Because of the expanded provision, it’s natural for adjuncts to have a lot of questions about the pilot program and how it works. But in addition to the expected questions, Rangel and others in the contract enforcement department began to note that certain adjuncts were being told that they were ineligible for a three-year appointment, when, in fact, they were eligible.
In one university-wide grievance, the union asserts that colleges are denying proper credit for teaching jumbo classes, which typically are credited for six to eight contact hours. Because of the size of a jumbo course, instructors are typically paid twice the rate of a regular course. Affected adjuncts are receiving pension credits, a paid professional hour, and qualifying for medical insurance on the basis of their jumbo courses but are not receiving credit toward the three-year appointment.
“The university is claiming that because the contract says to qualify for a multiyear contract you must have six contact hours, teaching a single jumbo is not, in their view, qualification for a multiyear contract because they’re asserting that you don’t have six contact hours before students,” Wine said.
In another grievance, the union shows that adjuncts who teach in programs and who hold appointments in academic departments but who teach in programs rather than in the department itself are also being denied eligibility for consideration for a three-year appointment. The colleges have refused to count courses that are taught in programs toward their service eligibility, even when they received letters of appointment from a department.
At the campus level, adjunct liaisons have been organizing around the new contract. Youngmin Seo, an adjunct lecturer in the social science department, became LaGuardia Community College’s adjunct liaison at the beginning of the academic year. He’s held more than 15 adjunct meetings on his campus since the start of the school year.
At a three-year appointment training workshop that he organized recently, more than 40 adjuncts attended. The organizing results have had real benefits in members’ lives already: two adjuncts who were short classes for the upcoming semester because of last-minute changes were able to pick up classes by networking with their colleagues.
Seo is glad that he’s stepped up his union involvement – as the new contract went into effect. “It has a snowball effect,” Seo told Clarion. “Once I get involved, I get more involved.”
Carly Smith, who became an adjunct liaison at Baruch College at the beginning of this academic year, said she’s been on an intense learning curve since she began her new role. “You’re trying to locate some of CUNY’s least visible and most itinerant workers, and that’s a challenging thing to do,” said Smith, who has welcomed the opportunity to connect with her coworkers in ways that can improve their working conditions. “It’s a good time to get involved. The work seems more urgent than ever.”
It was through one-on-one conversations that adjunct activists at Baruch found out that adjuncts teaching jumbo courses at the college’s Zicklin School of Business were being denied eligibility for three-year appointments. The chapter quickly filed a grievance on the issue, which is now part of a CUNY-wide grievance.
Smith said union members at her campus are getting more organized, and there’s movement to establish an adjunct committee on her campus and other CUNY campuses. “We have our contract. The next contract is on the horizon,” Smith said. “It’s a really hopeful time in terms of organizing part-timers.”