[In September 2012, Clarion interviewed PSC President Barbara about negotiations on a new PSC-CUNY contract.]
Q: The PSC-CUNY contract expired in October 2010. What does that mean for union members?
A: The provisions of the old contract remain in effect until the union and management reach a new agreement. That’s a result of the Triborough Amendment, part of the law that sets rules for public-sector bargaining in New York State.
Faculty and staff in the PSC bargaining unit are still protected by the contract’s due process guarantees, and we can still use the grievance procedure if a provision of the contract is violated. Benefits and other provisions also continue according to the terms of the old agreement.
Q: What about pay? Will there be any increases?
A: For many faculty and staff on schedule to receive a salary step increase, annual income will go up on January 1, in a step increase.
The salary steps remain in place even though the contract has expired because the union held firm in the last round of bargaining and resisted CUNY’s demand to eliminate them. The salary schedule as a whole, however, does not change – it remains as defined under the old contract. That means that those who have reached the top step will not receive a pay increase until a new contract raises the whole salary schedule.
While inflation has been low to moderate over the last couple of years, it is now starting to pick up. All of our members are feeling the cumulative effect of rising prices in one of the most expensive cities in the country. The union bargaining team is determined to win a pay increase in this contract. New York is not broke and we are entitled to reasonable salaries.
Q: How do contract talks by other municipal unions affect the PSC?
A: New York City’s long history of “pattern bargaining” means that in a given round of contract talks, the City’s settlements with the first few unions set an overall pattern that is followed by others. The “pattern” in the last round of contract talks included two annual 4% raises. The second of those two years corresponds to the first year of next PSC contract. So, like the United Federation of Teachers, the PSC takes the position that we are entitled to a 4% raise for that year. The report of a fact-finding panel in the UFT’s current contract talks could thus be important for the PSC.
Any economic offer from CUNY to the PSC has to be authorized by both the City and the State, and their offer is influenced in part by their negotiations with other unions. Our bargaining team remains in close touch with other unions, and we are monitoring the other negotiations in process now.
The experience of other public-sector unions shows that timing can make a big difference to the outcome at the bargaining table. So the PSC bargaining team continually assesses whether it’s strategic to demand that CUNY come to the table on a given issue.
Q: Have there been any negotiations between the PSC and CUNY?
A: Yes. The PSC is not just waiting – we have successfully negotiated in other areas, even in absence of an economic offer, and on some issues we’ve secured additional funding from CUNY.
We convinced management to put significantly more money into the PSC-CUNY Research Awards as part of a refashioning of the award program. The size of the maximum grant has been increased while we were able to maintain the broad-based nature of the program.
Another important advance is that paid parental leave has now been made a permanent part of the contract, rather than just a pilot program. So we’ve already been bargaining successfully in some areas, and have been able to bring those benefits to members right away.
If we are successful in negotiating a new basis for adjunct health insurance, we will have secured a major benefit for a core part of the teaching workforce. Stabilizing adjunct health insurance would benefit us all, because it would help to keep the union’s Welfare Fund on strong financial footing.
Q: Today there’s a lot of pressure on unions to accept concessions. What does that mean for the PSC?
A: The demand for concessions is an attempt to impose economic austerity on working people. We do not accept that austerity is the only option.
The PSC has fought successfully against austerity conditions, for ourselves and for our students. We’ve done this in past contracts, and in pressing for increased funding for CUNY. With our coalition allies, we won a partial extension of the millionaires’ tax – something many observers thought was impossible. Today we are challenging Pathways’ prescription for austerity education and opposing curriculum changes that would sell our students short.
This record suggests how the PSC would respond if we receive an austerity contract offer. We have a history of challenging the premise that there is no alternative to austerity – and we are prepared to fight.
Q: Given the political situation you describe, when can members expect a contract settlement?
A: We could probably have a settlement very soon if we were willing to agree to a concessionary contract. But a contract that makes our working conditions at CUNY even tougher wouldn’t be fair for us and would ultimately hurt the quality of education we can offer to our students. One of the union’s priority demands for the next contract, for instance, is for teaching loads that allow us to spend more time with individual students. To make progress on that, we will need a substantial economic offer from CUNY and a powerful campaign on the campuses.
When we will go to the bargaining table will depend on the negotiating team’s careful assessment of when we can press for the kind of economic offer we need. The union’s demands are prepared and have been approved by the delegates. We are gathering momentum as we challenge the position that austerity conditions for unions or for teachers are inevitable.
That answers a question you haven’t asked, but one I’ve heard from members: Why do we devote any union resources to supporting teachers in Chicago or transit workers or Verizon workers in New York? Because every time a union defeats an attempt to normalize austerity all working people benefit – and it becomes more possible for us to do the same.