When Chancellor Matthew Goldstein spoke at the Board of Trustees meeting on September 26, he said something CUNY had been unwilling to say for 25 years. “I will be incorporating into the University’s budget request, for the first time, funding to support health benefits for adjuncts,” the chancellor announced.
What made the difference? “It was your coming here today,” PSC President Barbara Bowen told hundreds of demonstrators on the street outside. “It was you and all the people who signed petitions and letters that made them move.”
Goldstein’s remarks suggested that this was now a priority for the administration. He called adjunct health insurance “a very legitimate concern,” described it as “something that has not been done to any of our satisfaction” and pledged to raise the issue in Albany the next day. But no details were provided – and while union leaders welcomed the administration’s shift in position, they cautioned that members will have to make their voices heard to ensure that CUNY maintains its new stance.
When the PSC first gained health insurance for adjuncts in 1986, the union negotiated annual payments from CUNY as part of a contract settlement. In what became a significant structural problem over time, the amount that the University paid did not increase with either the number of adjuncts covered or the cost of the benefit. The amount paid remained flat, year after year.
For the 11 years since Bowen became president, the PSC has pressed for a more sustainable approach to adjunct health care. The simplest structural solution, the union has said, would be to transfer eligible CUNY adjuncts to either the New York City or New York State health insurance plan, on the same terms as other comparable part-time workers. Neither plan lines up exactly with CUNY adjuncts’ current coverage, but both would provide stable, permanent health insurance. Both would provide “a structural solution to a structural problem” – that is, a plan in which funding is linked to the number of participants and the cost of coverage. While CUNY has flatly rejected the union’s demands for such a solution in the past, it has now made a public commitment to an effort to achieve one.
Although the administration has taken a step forward, the issue is far from resolved, and union leaders urged members to keep the heat on the University administration. “As the budget process heats up next year, CUNY must continue to stand behind adjunct health insurance as a priority,” said Bowen. “This fall we need to demonstrate the depth and breadth of support for adjunct health care within the University community, so that there’s no possibility 80th Street will waver.” In winter, as Albany engages with next year’s budget, she said the union will have to keep two balls in the air at the same time: maintain pressure on CUNY, while working to pass a CUNY budget that includes funding for adjunct health care.
“We have seen how strong support for this fundamental issue of justice is. Now we need to make that support as visible as possible on the campuses,” Bowen told the October 27 Delegate Assembly. “Why the campuses? Because that’s where we can apply the most pressure on CUNY, and we need to hold CUNY accountable for resolving the problem. We are also going to hold the City and State accountable – but it’s CUNY’s obligation, as our employer, to provide this coverage for our adjunct members.”