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Why I am voting ‘Yes’ on strike authorization

The PSC is organizing a union-wide vote that would authorize the union’s Executive Council to call a strike if, as PSC President Barbara Bowen described it, “after everything else is tried, we cannot achieve a fair solution any other way.” The solution sought by the union is a fair contract for the 27,000 CUNY faculty and staff it represents – employees who have gone without raises for six years, and without a contract for over five years. To be part of that solution, you can pledge your support for a strike authorization here. Note that while participating in a work stoppage does incur penalties for public employees under the New York State Taylor Law, there is no penalty for voting “Yes” to authorize union leaders to call a strike.

Shakia Brown

Assistant Coordinator, Budget Office
Medgar Evers College

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I’m voting “Yes” to PSC’s call for a strike authorization vote because we have to stand for equality, integrity and fairness. This is what we have to do to make a statement that conveys why this is so very important. I and my colleagues have suffered for over five years. I love CUNY and what the university stands for. This lack of a fair contract is a horrible injustice to students, faculty and staff. CUNY needs full funding and the time to resolve this matter is now. The wait has been long; justice is overdue. I’m voting to authorize the Executive Council to call a strike because I want to be valued as an employee, and for the PSC to be valued as a union. We must stand together to make a difference, or risk not being recognized as great workforce that serves CUNY.
I support the union.

Pamela Stemberg

Adjunct Lecturer, Department of English
City College of New York

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When I heard that the union was going to ask for authorization to strike, I was excited. My voice – along with those of my union brothers and sisters – is finally going to be heard. Yes, striking may have financial implications, but living on an adjunct’s salary also has consequences. I don’t want Governor Cuomo to think that underfunding the CUNY is OK, or that I’m happy with the way he treats the students and workers of CUNY. I’m voting “Yes” to the strike authorization!

Lara Beaty

Associate Professor of Psychology, Social Science Department
LaGuardia Community College

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I am supporting the strike authorization vote because public education is under attack. By joining with students to demand public support for higher education, we can overcome the contrived austerity agenda that is underfunding CUNY. Our ability to do our jobs and to live in an evermore expensive city depends on it. I love my job, but my current workload makes it hard for me to give students the time they need to succeed.

My research group has been a “high-impact” experience for students, but finding time to devote to the group has become increasingly difficult, and finding time to write has become almost impossible. CUNY needs adequate funding to thrive. Faculty need support; I can no longer afford to attend most conferences. I need to vote “Yes” because my ability to care for my children depends on a raise. I fear I won’t be able to live in the city much longer because of the rising cost of rent. Paying for my children to attend college while still paying my graduate school debts seems impossible. What message does it send to our students to see that their professors are struggling to make ends meet? I can’t afford to not vote “Yes.”

Luke Elliott-Negri

Graduate Assistant, Sociology Doctoral Program
The Graduate Center

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Even where public sector strikes are legal, union members choose to support such activity only with the utmost care and seriousness. This is to say that I did not come lightly to my decision to support the strike pledge – but I am 100 percent ready to strike, if it comes to that.

CUNY functions through the profound, increasingly ubiquitous exploitation of adjunct labor. When first hired, adjuncts do not make even $3,000 per course, and after a decade of service, still lack any meaningful job security. Meanwhile, the governor is waging a war of attrition against CUNY, the PSC and especially the working-class students – many of color – who fill CUNY’s campuses.

Used in conjunction with other tools – student organizing, community organizing, media strategy, electoral strategy, and the like – well-planned organizing for a strike authorization has the potential to reverse decades of CUNY disinvestment. Our actions can make the fight for public higher education the fight in the state of New York.

Voting “Yes” to authorize the Executive Council to call a strike is the an important step on the path to building the power to end adjunct exploitation and toward winning a high-quality contract for all members. But most importantly for me, it is a step toward the PSC becoming a more powerful champion of the CUNY system in general and the half-million students it serves.

Jawied Nawabi

Assistant Professor of Sociology and Economics, Department of Social Sciences
Bronx Community College

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The reason I’m voting “Yes” for the strike authorization is simply that, as a matter of principle, our PSC union contract with CUNY expired in 2010 and they have not renewed it! I find this disregard and disrespect toward the 25,000 hardworking and committed staff and faculty troubling, and I have become convinced that unless our brothers and sisters in the union threaten to strike, our voices for a fair contract and legally-based demands are not going to be honored. To make CUNY honor our demands, we will need a large majority of our union members to take the next courageous step. During the Spring 2016 semester, I plan to sit down with several colleagues and have one-to-one conversations with them regarding our union’s plan to authorize the Executive Council to call a strike. The more we are united in our union, the more we can enlarge our alliances with students and other union and community groups. Finally, voting “Yes” for the strike authorization is about the future of our professional work and affordable higher education in New York City (and the nation) for the millions of students whose only means to move up the economic ladder is through the great opportunities CUNY provides them.

Amy Jeu

College Laboratory Technician, Department of Geography
Hunter College

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I’m voting “Yes” because five years without a contract, six years without a raise, no step increases, increased workloads and responsibilities and no tangible promotional opportunities for CLTs have bled us dry. This contract must deal with all those issues. No longer will we stand for disinvestment in CUNY. No longer will we stand for students being robbed of an affordable quality education, leaving them to owe thousands in debt. No longer will we stand to see our colleagues living in poverty. No longer will we stand to see management rob us of our dignity. As living costs have risen appreciably, our salaries have continued to deteriorate.

Since our contract expired in October 2010, the inflation rate has compounded to 8.1 percent, the annual cost of living has risen to a minimum of $65,000, and we have seen no contractual salary increases. I’m a CLT working in the lowest paying full-time title of the PSC bargaining unit. Our salaries are between 14 percent and 33 percent less, respectively, than our faculty and HEO counterparts. The salaries of most CLTs are capped below the cost of living and some earn far below that figure. We deserve livable wages for our services. We must all unite and be strong to put an end to what amounts to wage theft.

Tahir Butt

Graduate Assistant, Urban Education Program
CUNY Graduate Center

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The decision to approve a strike authorization is one we will each make based on our individual circumstances, but also on the prospects for all of us who work at CUNY. With the current contract fight as just the most recent example of unions being bruised and weakened by decades of economic and political changes, a major challenge for us of how it is to reimagine and renew our capacity for collective action. I believe that absent such a renewal, CUNY administration will remain recalcitrant to our demands and those of our students, even as the state government continues to slash CUNY’s budget and undercut its historic mission to serve all the people of New York City. I will be voting “Yes” to authorize the Executive Council to call a strike – should it be deemed necessary – because that capacity to act together remains our greatest hope in the face of all these challenges.

In taking a pledge to strike, I am also committing to the many conversations with my fellow PSC members and CUNY students as we build other campaigns, such as those against possible budget cuts that could be used to both sell us short on a contract and push tuition hikes, and with adjuncts to end poverty wages for the bulk of CUNY’s educators. Ultimately, our collective power as a union is only as strong as our ability to organize with the many others who want to defend CUNY and build a better future for all of us.

Sarah E. Chinn

Associate Professor, English Department Chair
Hunter College

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I’ve been at Hunter since 2001. The semester I started teaching here I was pregnant with twins and quickly found out that there was no paid parental leave, meaning that I would have to either teach my full load or take a semester unpaid, in which case I would have to pay out of pocket for my health insurance. Faced with the possibility of caring for two newborns while teaching three classes, I chose to take the leave, even though I would be taking a major financial hit. I was thrilled when PSC-CUNY successfully negotiated for paid parental leave for full-time faculty so no one would have to go through what I did. Thanks to the PSC, CUNY is a more humane institution. I support the union’s call to authorize a strike because in my time at Hunter, it has consistently fought for a better workplace for all of us.

Deborah Gambs

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Social Sciences and Human Services
Borough of Manhattan Community College

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I will be voting “Yes” on the strike authorization because I believe CUNY faculty and staff need to stand up and fight for fair compensation for the work that we do. I believe that, for the long-term gains a strike could yield, it is worth the risk of fines. While the lack of an annual raise has affected me personally – making my studio apartment rent and student loan payments unaffordable, and requiring that I take in a roommate until our contract is resolved – my reasoning extends beyond my personal situation. There has been no viable rationale presented for why we shouldn’t be fairly compensated. This is a choice that the government and the administration are making. We live in an expensive city, our work is challenging, but we love our work with students and support the mission of CUNY. Why are we being subjected to what is truly a pay cut?

I’m voting “Yes” because when the governor and CUNY refuse to offer us a livable contract, they are sending a message to students: If you don’t care about faculty’s working and living conditions, you don’t care about students’ learning conditions. CUNY students deserve to have fairly paid professors who are not overworked and who have job security. They need and deserve faculty who can give them their full energy and attention.

The city and state must acknowledge that CUNY faculty and staff provide an education to students who are contributing members of the city and state. When we vote “Yes,” we demand recognition and respect for the work that we do.

Stephen Pekar

Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Science
Queens College

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I am voting “Yes” on strike authorization because it is an outrage for any professional, in any field, to remain without a contract for over five years.

I am voting “Yes” because this is a demonstration of disrespect to the devoted thousands of men and women who educate the next generation of young people.

I am voting “Yes” because our lack of a contract is a slap in the face to the struggling working-class families in New York City who see sending their kids to CUNY as one of the last remaining affordable options for accessing higher education.

I am voting “Yes” because we, the members of PSC, have tried every other option and have been left with no other choice. The draconian Taylor Law suppresses and weakens city unions to the extent that the powers that be feel empowered not to negotiate with our union. After five years, the lack of a contract at CUNY, along with the administration’s latest pathetic offer, is strong evidence for this. We must show the management of CUNY that PSC has teeth and that its members are committed to continue fighting until we get a fair contract!

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