This year several long-serving members of the PSC Executive Council (EC) are stepping down. Below is a look back –- and ahead –- from Vice President for Part-Time Personnel Marcia Newfield and from Vice President for Community Colleges Anne Friedman. Next issue will include perspectives from EC members Bob Cermele, Arthurine DeSola and Steve London.
Vice President for Part-time Personnel since 2002
Although I was active in CUNY Adjuncts Unite! before I took office and saw our yearlong petition drive for paid office hours for adjuncts become a contract reality, I was not prepared for the extent to which the PSC would become a central part of my life.
I wanted to understand the infrastructure and make sure that an adjunct voice was heard, so in addition to my duties on the Executive Council, bargaining team and in the Delegate Assembly, I became active on a range of union committees: Legislative, Academic Freedom, Finance, International, Grievance Policy, Labor Goes to the Movies. I got involved with our affiliates AAUP, AFT, NYSUT, and with US Labor Against the War. I also initiated the open monthly meetings of the Committee for Part-Time Personnel, aka the First Friday Committee.
I also wanted to counter the stereotypes about adjuncts (less than, not good enough) and the second-class status that we too often internalize (invisible, silent). I forced myself to become vocal and visible about our situation. My work as a grievance counselor gave me ample examples of the hardship that the system has tolerated: a longtime teacher who is non-reappointed with no explanation or conversation; poverty wages; and the denial of unemployment benefits, forcing some adjuncts to qualify for food stamps.
I was unprepared for the complexity and struggles of bargaining. CUNY is a Goliath opponent. They accede to demands grudgingly and always want their pound of flesh. And while we struggle with CUNY management, we also have to lobby the City, the State Legislature, the community. The PSC leadership and activists have done this and more. There is, however, a learning curve, and to win requires an exercise in vision, persistence and perseverance, which I now understand to be the spine of the labor movement.
The internal struggles to understand the complaints and desires of our various constituencies have been agonizing. It’s painful to sit in the midst of contradictions and frustrations and come to an agreement. The process does not stop with each contract; moving that process forward is important to building our union’s strength.
I got involved in the union because I wanted to fight the devaluation of higher education – and in the PSC we have built a community in struggle. Monumental victories for part-timers (and these took a truly Sisyphean effort) are inclusion in the City health program, paid office hours, a professional development fund, increased wages and tuition remission. Yet there is so much more to do. Adjuncts still do not have a living wage (receiving less than $30,000 for 30 credits a year), job security, accumulated sick days, unemployment insurance or health insurance coverage in retirement. Some of these are current contract demands, others will be fought out in the future. What will it take?
I trust my adjunct colleagues on the EC – VP Susan DiRaimo, Michael Batson, Lenny Dick, Tony Gronowicz and Blanca Vazquez, as well as the other PSC leaders – to fight on for the well-being of all.
Vice President for Community Colleges since 2000
I have spent over one-third of my professional life as a member of the PSC Executive Council, on the bargaining team and as vice president for community colleges. The front page of a somewhat yellowed May 2000 Clarion has me pictured among a team of 21 colleagues elected that year to the PSC Executive Council, a body I worked with to lay the foundation of PSC’s leadership through the next 15 years. Though a political activist all my life and raised in a family of union leaders, that election catapulted me to a level of responsibility that was both daunting and thrilling. At a time when open admissions was under attack and community colleges were demonized by the Giuliani administration, the PSC became a focal point for melding the struggle for better working conditions to the needs of our students.
Reflecting upon how I navigated this maze of challenges, I feel alternately exhausted and exhilarated. The collective of PSC leaders, committed to a common goal, to democratic process and mutual respect, made this possible. Together we have negotiated our contracts during periods of economic crisis and political strangleholds. We’ve learned that we can be bold, break patterns, win the confidence and respect of our members and build our union’s capacity. We’ve taken risks, been nimble, made hard choices. We’ve made significant gains during times of economic and political crisis.
For me, the highlight of the last 15 years is the struggle around community college contractual teaching hours and shadow workload. Efforts by local chapter leaders and rank-and-file activists to achieve a breakthrough on workload have been steady and firm. Unflinching support from this constituency has been invaluable in my leadership position. My dearest friend and most special sister in struggle, Lorraine Cohen, held my hand when I felt frustrated and angry facing what seem to be insurmountable odds in tempering the insanity of an oppressive workload. I am disappointed that we have made such little concrete progress on this issue since 2000. But I am confident that we have built a solid base on the ground, and that we have outstanding incoming EC leadership who will lead us forward in what we have always known is a long-term struggle.