Across-the-board wage increases, freezing health insurance costs and compensation for increased workloads are some of the things that CUNY Research Foundation (RF) employees who are working at the RF central office will be asking for in their upcoming contract negotiations. The unit’s current five-year contract expires at the end of this year and rank-and-file members of the RF unit are meeting to become familiar with the existing contract. They are also learning the terms of the National Labor Relations Act and participating in sessions about the negotiating process. All the unit’s members have completed a bargaining survey, and they’ve elected a 15-person bargaining team.
“You see a lot more people stepping up this year,” said Barbara Rose, an administrator in the procurement and payables department and an RF worker with more than 15 years of service. “I feel like this team is ready to fight. They’re outspoken and they’re not going to stand for anything but the best,” she said.
The top goal for the nearly 100 workers in the RF Central bargaining unit is increasing wages, but they’re also concerned about rising health insurance costs. Currently, RF workers pay 21 percent of their health care premiums and, with health care costs increasing, their cost of the health care premium is rising. Members want to cap costs to a maximum dollar amount.
Other priorities include compensation for increased workload, ability to use more of their paid sick leave if a family member is sick and a longer-term contract.
The most recent contract, which went into effect on January 1, 2013, secured gains, including compounded salary increases of 15.4 percent over five years, a $750 bonus, ability to use two weeks of sick leave for paid parental leave and the use of up to five sick leave days to care for an ill family member.
Jamie Cheung, who works as a project administrator in the grants and contracts department, became more involved, because, she said, “I feel that I should participate in things that I believe in.” She added, “I believe that there’s strength in numbers.”
The RF is a private nonprofit organization, so unlike other PSC members who are public-sector workers, members of this unit bargain in accordance with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rather than the state’s Taylor Law. Under the NLRB, the employer is not required to extend the contract if a new deal isn’t reached by the expiration date. RF workers, as private-sector workers, also have the legal right to strike.
Cheung previously worked in a non-union workplace. She knows firsthand how difficult it is for individuals to negotiate for themselves. She said as a group, they are building unity and creating a positive campaign. Through the course of weekly trainings, she has strengthened her negotiation and active listening skills.
“[We’re learning] how to listen to people and understand what people’s needs are,” Cheung said. “We’re definitely off to a good start.”