Campus-based employees of the CUNY Research Foundation (RF) have started negotiations for a new union contract. The current agreement, which covers RF employees represented by the PSC at the Graduate Center, City Tech and LaGuardia Community College, is set to expire on May 31.
The first bargaining session was held on March 23 at the Graduate Center. “We presented our proposals on expanding the ability to carry over annual leave, job security, paid holidays…for part-time employees, retiree benefits…with no loss in eligibility for breaks in service, compensation for time worked above 35 hours for all employees and more,” the union bargaining team reported in a joint chapter newsletter. The demands were based on a survey of PSC members on the RF payroll at the three campuses, who work on a variety of grant-based projects.
The union bargaining team is made up of 13 rank-and-file members. They are supported by a Contract Action Team of about 20 members, which lets people know what is going on in bargaining.
“I really want people to improve their lives and I want to improve my life,” said Olga Jimenez, a PSC bargaining team member from the Graduate Center, when asked why she got involved. “I wanted to fight for our rights.” She’d found the people active with the union to be easy to work with: “They listened to me, they would give me advice. And I like people who like to get things moving. I like to work hard and see results.”
A key change Jimenez wants to see is a provision for part-time employees like herself to get paid when their campus is closed for a holiday or due to severe weather. “Right now, people like me who work on two part-time lines – one CUNY and one RF – don’t get any pay when there is a holiday,” she explained. Anyone in a part-time position – even two of them – must use annual leave to cover those days, or make up the time another day if that’s possible. Otherwise, their pay is cut – and Jimenez says her paycheck is already very low to start with.
“When we have a holiday coming, it’s very stressful to think about because I don’t get paid,” she told Clarion. “That’s not good for me, and it’s not good for the Research Foundation.”
Lia Molero, a bargaining team member who works at LaGuardia, says that in the member survey, the issue of part-timers’ holiday pay emerged as one of the top concerns. Although Molero is a full-time RF employee and thus isn’t directly affected by the problem, she says it is a key issue. “I first learned about it because I knew somebody who told me he had to work late that night to make up hours because Monday was a holiday,” she said. “To get his full paycheck, he would have to make up seven hours during the other four days left in the week. I thought it was very unfair.”
Another important issue, she said, is to gain some kind of job security provision that would recognize past service by helping RF employees get a new position when the current one comes to an end. “We all know that working as an RF employee means that we’re paid by grants and could be let go when the grant ends,” Molero said. “My situation is different, but if it changes I’m aware that the same thing could happen to me.”
Calvin Patterson, an RF employee at City Tech for the past five years, says he’s seen “the growing pains” of organizing an active union “in an environment where it didn’t exist before.” It felt like the right time to step up by joining the bargaining team, he said. “I felt a need to be a part of it and show solidarity, by taking a more active role,” Patterson told Clarion. “My major concern in doing so was if I’d have enough time. I think sometimes you have to commit to it, and then you’ll figure out the time.”
In addition to Jimenez, Molero and Patterson, other members of the union bargaining team include Darren Kwong, Donna Thompson-Ray and Isa Vasquez at the Graduate Center; Roxanna Astorga and Martie Flores at City Tech; and Erica Guzman, Frederick John, Migdalia Ramos and Miosotys Rivera at LaGuardia.
“They really work hard,” Jimenez said of her fellow PSC negotiators. “We are all doing it as a team.”