PSC leaders say the union faces tough challenges in seeking a new contract – but with members’ support, they say they union can succeed.
“We do not have a new contract because we are resisting the efforts by the City and the State to impose economic austerity on CUNY faculty and staff,” said union president Barbara Bowen. “Instead of accepting the concessionary contracts the City and State have offered other public employees, the PSC is fighting to change the political climate. At the same time we have been quietly reaching agreements with CUNY on contractual issues, outside the formal bargaining process,” she told Clarion. “I know it puts great strain on all of us not to have a new contract. That’s why we need everyone’s participation in the fight to win what we need.”
At the union’s February 29, 2013 Delegate Assembly, PSC First Vice President Steve London elaborated on the union’s approach.
With New York’s political environment shaped by the politics of austerity, London said, all the economics offers made to public employee unions have been bad ones. In 2011, he noted, State government used the threat of massive layoffs to get the two largest State worker unions to accept five-year contracts that began with a three-year wage freeze. At the City level, Mayor Bloomberg says that any raises for municipal workers must be paid for by union concessions. With City unions unwilling to agree to settlements on the mayor’s terms, workers in every single municipal bargaining units are currently working under expired contracts – the first time this has happened since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. City unions have expressed hope that bargaining may make more progress under a new administration, scheduled to take office next year.
The PSC negotiates its contract with CUNY management, London noted, but any settlement requires approval from both the City and the State.
In this situation, London said, it is not in the PSC’s interest to press CUNY management to make an immediate economic offer. The union has responded by working on two tracks, he said.
First, the PSC has pursued discussions with management on non-salary issues. “We have been reaching agreements, and have made some important gains,” London told delegates. “We negotiated the permanent extension of paid parental leave. We negotiated an agreement on increasing funds for the PSC-CUNY Research Awards. And, of course, we have been negotiating and working very hard on adjunct health insurance.” On that last point, London reported, “We are very close, and we hope to bring this to a conclusion soon.”
While negotiating on such non-salary issues, London said, the PSC is also pursuing a second track: working with allies to change the political environment that has put New York on the path of austerity. “We need to change the austerity policy framework within which these contract offers are coming out,” London said.
This year’s NYC elections offer a major opportunity to do so, London said: “We have the chance to elect a large number of progressive City Council members on an anti-austerity platform. They will be Council members who will speak up for the people of New York City, will speak up for CUNY, who know our issues – and that can start to shift NYC away from the politics of austerity.”
“This will not be easy,” he added. “We’re now 25 years into an austerity agenda. To change that, we are going to have to fight, and we’re going to have to have the whole union engaged. But it can be done, with your support.”