New York—Employees of the CUNY Research Foundation working at New York City College of Technology, LaGuardia Community College and the CUNY Graduate Center have unanimously ratified their first union contracts. The three largely identical contracts were approved by a combined margin of 177 to zero during a vote that spanned from late April to May 23. The Board of Directors of the CUNY Research Foundation voted to approve the contract Thursday.
“At a time when workers' right to organize is under attack throughout the country, this first contract is an important victory,” said Jay Klokker, a member of the bargaining team from New York City College of Technology. “This contract affirms that Research Foundation employees are vital to the ongoing work of CUNY and that we deserve the benefits and protections that only a union can provide.”
The Research Foundation is a private entity affiliated with CUNY that facilitates the University’s grant development efforts and administers programs funded by government and private sponsors. Employees at the RF’s main office are mostly full-time workers who administer the grants. Workers at the Research Foundation’s field units, such as the three CUNY colleges, implement CUNY’s grant-funded projects. More than two-thirds of field unit employees work part-time. They work as researchers, but also as instructors, counselors, tutors, micro-computer specialists, technicians or administrative workers.
By approving the agreement between their union, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, and the CUNY Research Foundation, the workers locked in annual minimum wage increases, improved leave policies and contractual guarantees of the terms of their employment. The contracts began June 1, 2011 when the first 2% wage increase took effect. They expire in 2015 and cover about 600 workers.
"Thanks to this contract, RF employees who had not received any raise in years will finally get something,” said Georgina Pierre-Louis, administrative assistant at Howard Samuels Center, a member of the bargaining team.
The contracts come after seven years of drawn-out negotiations that began when workers at the LaGuardia field unit voted by an overwhelming margin to join the PSC in 2004. New York City Tech Research Foundation workers followed with their own strong union vote in 2005. Graduate Center RF workers voted by a similar margin to join in 2005, but their election was not certified until 2007. Workers at the Research Foundation’s central office have been represented by the PSC since 1975.
Stalling tactics and legal maneuvers by the Research Foundation held up the negotiations for the field units’ contract.
"This contract took years of negotiations with the Research Foundation and their lawyer, sometimes on a weekly basis. But I know that what ultimately made the difference wasn't what we said in that room. It was the mobilization of our members and supporters, through rallies and other pressure tactics, that got the message across to the RF that we wouldn't stop until we had a contract," said Peter Frase, a bargaining team member from the CUNY Graduate Center.
At a time when too many unions are losing members, PSC is excited about growing. Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, welcomed and congratulated the RF workers.
“I am in awe of the tenacity of the bargaining team members who stuck with this process for seven years,” she said. “While it’s atrocious that the RF stretched out the negotiations so long, the result is a nationally important group of contracts. At a time when public universities are channeling more and more work to unstable, grant-supported positions, these contracts break new ground by providing these workers with stability and protection.”
The Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, affiliated with NYSUT and the AFT, represents over 22,000 faculty and professional staff at The City University of New York and the CUNY Research Foundation. It works to advance the professional lives of its members, enhance their terms and conditions of employment, and maintain the strength of the nation’s largest, oldest and most visible urban public university.