A 2020 timeline of action
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for the PSC.
Throughout March, the union updated its 30,000 members almost daily on their rights, required workplace safety and health measures, and how to shift to remote work during the pandemic. Concerted and continued pressure on the part of the PSC brought a reluctant CUNY to the bargaining table to negotiate over working conditions and concerns about health and safety measures under COVID-19. The agreements from the union’s negotiations can be read in full at tinyurl.com/impact-bargaining-agreements.
Then came the “Summer of Struggle,” as union members continued to organize and the PSC maintained its political and legal pressure through socially distanced actions and ongoing demands to safeguard health insurance, employment and acceptable health and safety measures for all its members. The summer campaign built on the momentum the union had developed in the spring, as the PSC mobilized hundreds of members to push Albany for more revenue. As the summer continued, the struggle broadened to include mass uprisings against the systemic racism exposed by the epidemic.
Below is a timeline of how the PSC fought to secure the work, health and safety of CUNY faculty, staff and students in a time of unprecedented crisis. The struggle will continue in 2021. Join us: Contact your chapter leadership and get involved (tinyurl.com/psc-chapter-leadership).
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
PSC requests negotiations with CUNY administration in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.
A letter to CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez from union leadership asserts the legal right of the union to be a part of discussions for plans that affect the health and safety and work schedules of PSC members. PSC President Barbara Bowen asks detailed questions about cleaning and decontamination procedures, supplies, training, continuity of instruction, availability of resources for students if classes shift online, guarantee of full pay for adjunct faculty and hourly employees, accommodations for immunocompromised faculty and staff, and employee sick leave policies unique to the pandemic.
SATURDAY, MARCH 7
Governor Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency in New York State.
With case numbers mounting, Cuomo issues a state of emergency that empowers local health departments to expedite certain tasks, including procuring cleaning supplies and allowing health-care officials other than doctors and nurses to conduct COVID-19 testing.
MONDAY, MARCH 9
PSC issues preliminary demands on COVID-19.
The PSC issues demands on behalf of its 30,000 bargaining-unit members that include: informing the CUNY community about cleaning and decontamination plans; allowing members at higher COVID-19 risk or members who share a residence with someone at higher risk the option to work remotely; identifying faculty with expertise in online instruction to lead trainings and be compensated accordingly; allowing professional staff the option to work in staggered shifts; providing paid sick leave for all PSC members who suspect they may have contracted COVID-19; providing paid sick days for all CUNY employees; and reporting to PSC weekly, and addressing any problems within 24 hours, regarding the functionality of hand-washing facilities in all CUNY public restrooms.
MONDAY, MARCH 9
The CUNY Chancellor responds.
The CUNY chancellor responds in a letter that CUNY is “dealing with [problems] in due course, as circumstances arise,” but that concerns over canceled classes are “premature.” The union fears adjuncts will lose pay. CUNY offers an outline of university efforts that include an updated website as the primary method of communicating to the CUNY community; a coronavirus task force and a list of point people at each college; a draft of FAQs for human resources directors that summarizes work being done; CDC and NYS Department of Health guidance on safety and health measures; and ongoing discussions with the state and city of New York on measures being taken. In the letter, the chancellor acknowledges the need – or the university’s legal obligation – to negotiate with the PSC over health and safety measures and changes to members’ work schedules.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11
PSC issues guidance on the use of sick days and working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The union advises members who are unwell for any reason to stay home and members who want to work remotely to contact their college human resources office and immediate supervisor to request an accommodation. The union tells members to fulfill work obligations and document work performed each day.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11
CUNY announces its coronavirus plan.
CUNY outlines a transition to “distance education” for the rest of Spring semester while all CUNY campuses remain open, including dorms, libraries, research facilities and daycare centers.
THURSDAY, MARCH 12
PSC responds to CUNY’s coronavirus plan and pushes for more remote work options.
CUNY’s plan creates remote work for teaching faculty, while non-teaching faculty and professional staff are still expected to work on campus. Classes move to distance learning, but campuses remain open. Union leadership pushes for wider latitude in workers’ ability to work remotely.
THURSDAY, MARCH 12
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declares a state of emergency.
With nearly 100 confirmed cases in the city and projections of a tenfold increase in the next week, de Blasio calls developments “striking and troubling.” In his declaration, the mayor prioritizes keeping schools, mass transit and the health-care system running. A few days later, the mayor announces that New York City’s schools are shutting down beginning March 16 with remote learning to begin March 23.
FRIDAY, MARCH 13
President Donald Trump declares a national emergency.
SATURDAY, MARCH 14
PSC calls for all work to be performed remotely.
PSC advocates for a CUNY-wide remote-work policy, saying all employees should be treated equally during the public health crisis and asserting that campus presidents making individual campus decisions on remote work is bad policy. The PSC states its willingness to negotiate to maintain essential functions, including payroll and computing needs.
SUNDAY, MARCH 15
After persistent PSC pressure, CUNY announces, “only CUNY essential personnel should report to work tomorrow.”
After more than 4,000 letters are sent in a single afternoon to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez and CUNY Board of Trustees Chair Bill Thompson demanding that CUNY employees work remotely, CUNY concedes. The letter, signed by members, states, “We want to work, but we do not want to endanger our students, our families, our city and ourselves by traveling to work in this crowded city and working in close proximity on CUNY campuses.” Members agree that the decision to move to distance learning is a good decision, but more needs to be done.
MONDAY, MARCH 16
PSC calls to limit on-campus work.
CUNY leaves the discretion of defining “essential personnel” to college presidents and deans. The union urges members not to report to work unless they were previously designated as essential, even if a supervisor deems a lab, library or other CUNY office to be essential. The union advises members to notify supervisors when following the directives of their union and the chancellor’s initial message, and to document work being done from home.
MONDAY, MARCH 16
Chancellor details CUNY’s coronavirus plan.
The chancellor writes that campus presidents and deans are to determine which employees are needed on campus, and what facilities, including libraries, research facilities and computer laboratories, need to remain open, even if on a limited basis. Food pantries and childcare centers at CUNY campuses remain open at the order of the governor.
MONDAY, MARCH 16
PSC calls on CUNY to work with the union to develop adequate emergency contingency plans.
The PSC criticizes CUNY for not having a contingency plan already in place after emergencies such as 9/11, the H1N1 flu and Hurricane Sandy. All college laboratories and libraries must close, the union says, and the number of essential employees on each campus should be minimized.
MONDAY, MARCH 16
Thousands of PSC members begin sending letters to several state lawmakers involved in finalizing the budget.
As the NYS budget is being finalized, PSC members send more than 9,000 letters to key state lawmakers, including State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger and Governor Andrew Cuomo to demand a tax increase on the ultra-rich in order to safeguard funds for public agencies on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, and for underfunded public institutions, including schools and higher education. “As this country saw during the Great Depression, crises can spawn hopeful, bold, expansive investment or, alternatively, fear, retreat and disinvestment. We need the former,” the letter states.
TUESDAY, MARCH 17
Talks begin between PSC leadership and Chancellor Matos Rodríguez.
Some colleges essentially closed, Lehman College, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, but others remain open. Progress is made on some issues with CUNY management, but CUNY refuses to negotiate on the urgent union demand that all PSC-represented employees work remotely under a single protocol followed by all CUNY colleges. The PSC urges its members to write letters to the college presidents asserting that “essential staff” should be strictly defined as staff whose on-site work is required in order to maintain emergency operations.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18
PSC calls on CUNY to close campus buildings and libraries and shift to working remotely.
Despite confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Brooklyn College, Bronx Community College, John Jay College, Lehman College, Queens College and Guttman Community College, as well as suspected cases reported CUNY-wide, CUNY requires thousands of non-emergency workers to continue to report to campuses, including many faculty and staff who work in the colleges’ libraries, counseling centers and other offices.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18
PSC issues guidance on what to do if asked to work on campus.
The union gives guidance to members being required to report to work in person that includes: checking in with supervisors prior to coming in; using sick days or emergency leave days if feeling unwell; demanding protective clothing and equipment; asking for a written explanation on why their job is considered “essential”; asking for accommodations if categorized as being at higher risk or if living with someone who is; detailing to supervisors in writing why a workplace is considered unsafe (such as an inability to maintain social distancing).
FRIDAY, MARCH 20
Governor Cuomo announces “New York State on PAUSE” executive order.
Cuomo orders non-essential businesses to close in-office personnel functions by the evening of March 22, but excludes essential businesses, including health-care facilities, utility companies, trash and recycling, grocery stores, pharmacies, food manufacturers, banks and news media, among others.
MONDAY, MARCH 23
PSC pushes again for a clear definition of “essential personnel” in light of Cuomo’s executive order.
With Governor Cuomo’s executive order in effect, the PSC asks CUNY to provide a list of essential PSC-represented employees (including instructional staff at Educational Opportunity Centers and Research Foundation workers) and detail the health and safety measures ensuring that essential employees have the necessary protective clothing and equipment and properly sanitized and cleaned workplaces. “The PSC takes the position that employees who are required to report to work during a pandemic should receive additional compensation, and we seek to negotiate that with you,” writes Barbara Bowen in a letter to CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez.
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
Chancellor Matos Rodríguez announces a “recalibration” period and issues a “clarification” in response to union pressure.
Without consultation with the PSC, Matos Rodríguez announces a recess that he calls “CUNY’s Recalibration Period for Educational Equity” set to begin on Friday, March 27, and to last until Wednesday, April 1, in order to give students time to get needed equipment, and faculty time to “fine-tune” teaching virtually. The recess also shortens CUNY’s spring break to three days, from April 8 to 10.
After union pushback, the chancellor issues another message the next day reiterating his rationale for the period, restoring the days off.
THURSDAY, APRIL 2
PSC asks CUNY to suspend remote work guidelines until CUNY and PSC can bargain over them.
As several CUNY colleges issue guidelines about remote work that include changes to mandatorily negotiable terms in the collective bargaining agreement, the PSC seeks to suspend their implementation. Telecommuting guidelines for professional staff at the Graduate Center, for example, require employees to submit telecommuting plans to their supervisors for approval, an expectation that people work at the same or similar levels of productivity as when on campus, and the requirement that employees submit a summary of work on a schedule determined by their supervisor.
TUESDAY, APRIL 21
PSC shares the first supplemental COVID-19 labor agreement negotiated between the union and CUNY management.
The emergency agreement concerning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on contractual terms covering members covers classroom teaching observations, annual evaluations for both staff and faculty, office hours conducted through distance technology, decisions on tenure, and reclassification and salary differentials that were already in process on March 12. It takes retroactive effect from March 12.
Faculty candidates under tenure consideration in Fall 2020 are permitted to request a one-year extension of their tenure clock. Faculty with tenure consideration dates that occur after Fall 2020 may apply for an extension later. The union continues to negotiate with CUNY management on crucial issues, including three-year adjunct appointments and expanding health insurance coverage to all CUNY doctoral students.
THURSDAY, APRIL 23
PSC President Barbara Bowen urges members to take action in the face of several massive budget cuts and anticipation of budget shortfalls.
Several colleges move to slash their course offerings in anticipation of budget shortfalls, implicitly sending the message that cuts at CUNY are inevitable and acceptable. In response, Bowen says that CUNY management should be demanding new investment in public institutions for the common good and calls on members to submit letters, saying they will not accept “panicked, ill-informed plans to reduce course offerings.” More than 3,500 letters are sent to CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez and CUNY Board of Trustees Chair Bill Thompson.
FRIDAY, MAY 8
The union sends a comprehensive bargaining agenda for the coronavirus crisis to the CUNY chancellor.
The union’s bargaining team and chapter leadership draft an agenda that includes more than 40 demands around health and safety, salary, health insurance and sick leave, workload, scheduling and telecommuting, distance technology, leave, professional development and appointments, and promotions and reclassification. The agenda rests on a ten-point bargaining framework based on the principle that employees remain on the payroll with health insurance and that on-campus work should not resume until it is safe. “The union’s proposals are not about managing austerity or accommodating to budget cuts,” says PSC President Barbara Bowen. “They are about taking a stand against the dismantling of the university and for new investment in the nation’s largest urban university.”
MONDAY, MAY 11
PSC members flood the CUNY Board of Trustees with more than 2,300 testimonies in the face of looming budget cuts and mass layoffs of adjuncts.
Canceling the customary hearings held a week prior to a scheduled board meeting, the CUNY Board of Trustees instead announces it will only accept written testimony for its May meeting. CUNY faculty and staff respond with more than 2,300 protest statements addressing public college’s crucial role in society in times of economic downturn when enrollment typically increases, investing in people and not just throwing technological “solutions” at a problem, and extending funding for doctoral students in keeping with practices at other colleges. Members call on board members to be “aggressive in [their] advocacy” for additional money and to cut salaries in the Executive Compensation Plan rather than eliminate jobs crucial to the livelihoods and health insurance coverage of adjuncts and other contingent employees.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 13
CUNY and PSC extend adjunct appointment notification deadline to May 29.
Faced with potential job loss, hundreds of adjuncts across CUNY are given a two-week extension of their May 15 adjunct reappointments/non-reappointments deadline, thus giving adjuncts more time to fight and organize against mass layoffs.
THURSDAY, MAY 14
CUNY department chairs sign a PSC statement denouncing adjunct layoffs and course offering reductions.
Local PSC chapters, along with department chairs, organize across CUNY against preemptive cuts that include a 25% decrease in course offerings at Brooklyn College and a 35% reduction at the College of Staten Island, as well as plans to lay off more than 430 adjuncts at John Jay. Several college department chairs sign a letter calling the move “morally repugnant.” The letter states that “In this crisis, the CUNY administration should defend the city’s public university, not capitulate to budget cuts before they are even announced by state and city governments.” More than 220 department chairs and interdisciplinary program directors have signed the letter.
FRIDAY, MAY 15
U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins the PSC in denouncing plans for mass layoffs and calls for new taxes on the ultra-rich.
In a Zoom press conference, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins the call against austerity saying, “In a time of economic crisis, we need to be investing in New York City’s working-class institutions, not destroying hundreds of good union jobs.… Austerity is not the answer, solidarity is. I stand with PSC-CUNY in its fight for a CUNY that works for the working class of New York – students, staff and faculty alike.”
At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the administration announces plans to cut 437 adjunct positions, nearly 40 percent of the college’s teaching faculty. Department chairs at the College of Staten Island are ordered to decrease course offerings by 35 percent. The employment of thousands of adjuncts, many of whose health insurance is tied to their jobs, hangs in the balance – all before any state and city budget cuts are even enacted.
State lawmakers talk about proposed legislation that would help increase revenue, including an ultra-millionaires’ tax, designating tax revenue streams for CUNY and SUNY, and allocating the revenue from a millionaire’s tax to public schools and higher education. A state senator calls the layoffs “beyond short-sighted.” Slashing the teaching force and reducing course offerings stand to affect hundreds of thousands of CUNY students – and countless other working-class New Yorkers who turn to public higher education to transform their lives.
SUNDAY, MAY 18
Scores of PSC members take part in the “Caravan to Save Jobs and Fund CUNY.”
PSC members take to the streets of Midtown and Upper East Side of Manhattan as a moving caravan of more than 50 cars and 30 bicyclists to demand that CUNY keep all its employees working and on health insurance during the pandemic. The caravan starts near CUNY Central on 42nd Street, makes its way past Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office and then heads north to the Upper East Side past the homes of New York billionaires and the ultra-rich, including Stephen Schwartzman, a major Wall Street backer to President Trump, and Stephen Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary. The protest coincides with the scheduled CUNY Board of Trustees meeting.
MONDAY, MAY 18
PSC President Bowen calls on Board Chair Thompson and Chancellor Matos Rodríguez to rescind and halt all non-reappointments of faculty and staff.
In a letter, Bowen and the PSC call on CUNY leaders to provide a public accounting of the university’s budget, including allocations from federal stimulus money, an estimate of year-to-end reserves, enrollment projections, cost-savings from shutting down campuses during the crisis, and other areas in the CUNY budget that could be cut. The letter argues that as leaders of the nation’s largest urban university, Matos Rodríguez and Thompson should be advocating for the university’s expansion during this unprecedented crisis where CUNY will play a vital role in the city’s economic recovery. Course reductions and mass layoffs, including the loss of health insurance for many, are not the solution. “The job of university management is to protect and enhance CUNY, not manage its destruction,” says Bowen.
MONDAY, MAY 25
PSC launches “Hurting CUNY means hurting our recovery” commercial.
A 30-second ad advocating against budget cuts and layoffs airs more than 450 times on cable news networks in New York City and is shown tens of thousands of times on social media. “CUNY has lifted generations of New Yorkers out of poverty and serves the communities hardest hit by this crisis,” the TV ad says. “Tell CUNY not to turn its back on our city’s most vulnerable communities during this crisis.”
WEEK OF MAY 25
Thousands of letters to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez and CUNY trustees urge the board to rescind layoffs and stop mass non-reappointments.
In a letter demanding trustees use their influence to support progressive taxation to raise revenue in the city and the state, thousands of signees affirm “CUNY will be essential to any economic recovery for New York. But New York City’s public university cannot help to rebuild the economy and workforce of our battered, traumatized city if the trustees see their role as nothing more than managing CUNY’s destruction.”
FRIDAY, MAY 29
CUNY and PSC agree to extend deadline for adjunct appointment notifications to June 30, 2020.
A PSC-CUNY agreement creates a process for PSC and CUNY to meet before the end of June to address instances where adjuncts stand to lose their health insurance through CUNY and states that any adjunct appointment already made shall not be rescinded. Management also agrees to the union demand to provide detailed CUNY and college budget information, including proposed cuts, information about the state and city fiscal situation related to CUNY, and enrollment projections.
SUNDAY, MAY 31
PSC releases a statement condemning the murder of George Floyd.
The union condemns the killing by police and shows that the COVID crisis has laid bare the way the U.S. is structured by racial violence. Hundreds of PSC members and CUNY students join anti-racist protests throughout the summer.
TUESDAY, JUNE 2
PSC launches “Save Lives, Save Jobs, Save CUNY” membership campaign with the goal of engaging each of its 30,000 members in a one-on-one conversation by the end of the summer.
In the face of a major public struggle against deep cuts to CUNY during a catastrophic recession, the “union needs to create enough support and communication among members to be able to take whatever strong action is necessary,” says PSC President Barbara Bowen. “Building that support starts with member-to-member conversations.”
TUESDAY, JUNE 23
More than 100 PSC members form a socially distanced human chain from CUNY headquarters on 42nd Street to Governor Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office.
Wearing masks, holding posters and banners, and keeping more than six feet apart, CUNY faculty and staff protest cuts to CUNY and the plan to potentially lay off thousands of adjuncts as the June 30 adjunct reappointment deadline looms. Hundreds of additional members join via Zoom. “This is serious, and we are in the fight of our lives,” PSC President Barbara Bowen tells protesters. “The answer to this fight is more and more organized struggle.”
FRIDAY, JUNE 26
New York elected officials join the PSC call to demand a stop to CUNY cuts and layoffs.
More than 70 elected state and city officials sign on to a letter to CUNY Board Chair Thompson and Chancellor Matos Rodríguez demanding a stop to CUNY cuts and layoffs. “This is the wrong time – morally, politically and fiscally – to cut CUNY,” states the June 26 letter. “New York will need CUNY more than ever as we seek to rebuild the economy and create a more just world.”
SATURDAY, JUNE 27
PSC joins CUNY University Student Senate march for racial and economic justice across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Hundreds of CUNY students, faculty and staff, along with elected NYC leaders, march across the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Borough City Hall to New York City Hall to demand $16 million dollars from the NYPD budget get redirected to CUNY to offset budget cuts and a possible tuition hike at the community colleges. “We cannot separate the Black Lives Matter movement from CUNY,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams tells the crowd of protesters. “There is no reason CUNY cannot cut the fat and stop cutting the faculty.” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York State Queens Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson are also in attendance.
TUESDAY, JUNE 30
2,800 CUNY adjuncts are laid off and more than 400 lose their health insurance.
An estimated 2,800 adjuncts, or roughly one-fifth of the CUNY adjunct workforce, receive non-reappointments for Fall 2020. A projected 422 of those also lose their adjunct health insurance eligibility for the fall. More than 4,000 CUNY faculty and staff immediately sign a petition stating, “The CUNY administration is only too happy to rely on adjuncts to sustain the university despite inadequate public funding. Now, when our students are in greatest need of support, and when New Yorkers without income and health insurance are most vulnerable, you treat the adjunct faculty and staff as disposable.”
WEDNESDAY, JULY 1
PSC files a federal lawsuit against CUNY charging that the University violated its obligations under the CARES Act by laying off thousands of part-time employees.
In a court case filed in the Southern District of New York, the PSC seeks an injunction on the nearly 3,000 layoffs of CUNY adjuncts to halt layoffs and reinstate jobs. The PSC argues that in accepting more than $250 million dollars in federal funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) the university explicitly agreed “to the greatest extent practicable” to pay its employees “during the period of any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus.” Yet, by the end of June, more than 2,800 adjuncts were laid off and 422 adjuncts lost their health insurance, according to information obtained by the union.
THURSDAY, JULY 2
PSC members and CUNY students protest austerity, racist disinvestment and anti-blackness at Brooklyn College.
Faculty, staff and students protest layoffs of hundreds of adjuncts, including more than 50 adjuncts who rely on health insurance through CUNY.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 15
Faculty and staff from CUNY Bronx colleges gather to protest layoffs and cuts.
Outside Bronx Community College and on Zoom, union members from BCC, Lehman College and Hostos Community College protest the layoffs of hundreds of Bronx adjuncts.
SATURDAY, JULY 18
More than 1,300 march in PSC caravans in all five boroughs to call for a fully-funded and safe CUNY and a halt to mass layoffs.
More than 500 PSC members in Manhattan join PSC contingents in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, and more than 750 people via synchronous Zoom protest, stand against the layoffs of nearly 3,000 CUNY adjuncts. Thousands more join on Facebook Live and through social media actions, making the PSC-CUNY protest one of the top trending social media stories in New York City for the day.
THURSDAY, JULY 23
On “Own your Annual leave Day,” PSC members in danger of losing their earned vacation days make requests to take the days off.
After mass action by members unable to use their annual leave because of the pandemic, CUNY extends the deadline for use of annual leave for HEOs, CLTs and others.
Link: tinyurl.com/PSC-letter-CUNY-HR (letter to HR directors)
SATURDAY, JULY 25
The PSC Executive Council issues 10 demands and sets an August 26 deadline for talks with CUNY.
The PSC Executive Council announces a set of 10 demands to be met by CUNY administration by the first day of classes. The demands include involving unions in the university’s reopening plans; full compliance with state, federal and union-negotiated regulations for workplace health and safety; accommodation for employees at serious risk of contracting COVID-19; reinstatement of represented CUNY employees who have been laid off and/or lost their health insurance in 2020 for budgetary or programmatic reasons; real movement in impact bargaining; inclusion of faculty governance bodies, department chairs and the PSC, where appropriate in decisions about curriculum and instruction methods; bargaining over class size; freezing tuition for the academic year and elimination of the “wellness fee”; and a public plan for addressing the health emergency faced by the students.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12
A district court judge denies PSC’s motion for a preliminary injunction to reverse the layoffs of more than 2,800 of CUNY’s part-time faculty and instructional staff.
Federal Judge Jed S. Rakoff rules that the CARES Act requirement that educational institutions maintain employees on payroll “to the greatest extent practicable” is not an enforceable right by the affected employees and denies the PSC’s lawsuit to reverse the layoffs during the pandemic of thousands of union members, including adjuncts, continuing education teachers, CUNY Start instructors and CUNY Language Immersion Program instructors.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 13
In a solemn Zoom vigil, union members remember and name colleagues lost due to coronavirus.
With an estimated 48 deaths, CUNY earns the unfortunate distinction of being, by some estimates, the university to lose the most lives to the coronavirus epidemic at the time. Union members remember their colleagues.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 18
The PSC and CUNY reach agreements on impact bargaining issues on scheduling leave and sabbaticals, tenure review for CLTs, and Certificate of Continuous Employment for lecturers.
The union continues to bargain with CUNY around changes to the contract due to the pandemic. CLTs who are candidates for tenure effective September 1, 2020, may receive a one-year extension if they want, and lecturers can defer consideration for CCE (Certificate of Continuous Employment). The deadline to use annual leave for the year ending on 8/31/20 can be extended to 12/31/20 in certain conditions. Faculty who wish to defer their sabbaticals during either or both semesters for the 2020–2021 academic year may do so without having to reapply.
MONDAY, AUGUST 24
Eight members of the U.S. Congress write to CUNY management with dismay about the mass adjunct layoffs.
House members said the money that they secured for CUNY through the CARES Act was meant to keep faculty on the payroll.
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY, AUGUST 26-27, 2020
Thousands participate in the PSC “Around-the-Clock” 24-hour online action, celebrating union wins from #CUNYSummerofStruggle and mobilizing for militant action ahead.
Marking the first day of classes at most CUNY colleges, scores of PSC members and their CUNY allies participate in a 24-hour online marathon action to highlight pressing issues facing the university and celebrate their accomplishments to date.
In video sessions, members and allies discuss a range of issues from historical analysis of CUNY’s chronic underfunding to pressing health and safety issues facing members and campuses during the pandemic to highlights from the union’s #CUNYSummerofStruggle. PSC leaders also update members on the status of the union’s 10 demands presented July 25 to CUNY; some of them were partially met and others not at all.
The action ends on a pivotal note: While the union remains committed to all forms of protest against layoffs and unsafe campus reopenings – either in court, in the streets or in lobbying actions – PSC President Barbara Bowen announces that PSC leadership is ready to discuss the possibility of authorizing a future job action. The American Federation of Teachers, the PSC’s national affiliate, says it will support its members who engage in safety strikes by public-sector workers in New York State.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 27
PSC Health and Safety Watchdogs release safety protocol checklists for CUNY’s partial reopening.
The union issues guidance and checklists for workers returning to campus on hygiene, ventilation, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, health screenings and testing – including state-mandated health and safety precautions, and filing a complaint with the state. The PSC Health and Safety Watchdogs also raise specific questions to local chapter leaders about existing issues with CUNY buildings and deteriorating infrastructure.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
Union members across the city protest the proposed layoffs of thousands of city workers.
In a rally at Foley Square, union members protest the potential layoffs of more than 20,000 municipal workers to balance the city budget deficit. PSC members attend the rally organized by several local union chapters in DC 37.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
Members at Hunter College Schools, on the brink of a strike, win an independent safety inspection after weeks of organizing against an unsafe return to work.
As the K-12 faculty the PSC represents are called back to full-time in-person work, the PSC wins a temporary restraining order against CUNY in State Supreme Court to mandate installation of HEPA air filters in their windowless building. HCCS members had rallied in front of their school building, affectionately known as the “brick prison,” the week before, and they mobilized throughout the summer demanding that they receive the same safety protections as other public school teachers. On the eve of the school’s reopening, CUNY continues to refuse to allow an independent safety inspection of the building. Pressure builds for a safety strike. Hours before the deadline, the strike is averted when CUNY relents and allows an inspection of the building’s ventilation system.
In October, several students and faculty test positive for COVID, and the PSC again prepares for legal action and mobilization to secure tighter health and safety protocols.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15
PSC members protest virtually and in person at Hunter College, demanding budget transparency.
CUNY management signed an agreement in May that they would provide detailed college budget information. It would include information about proposed cuts, enrollment projections and state and city fiscal situations. But CUNY has yet to honor its legal obligation. CUNY administration also has not outlined how federal money received from the CARES Act, $132 million for institutional support, was spent. Members also protested the mass layoffs of adjuncts and asking workers to report for in-person work without adequate health safety measures.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22
The PSC and CUNY issue a joint statement, reaffirming their commitment to curb workplace bullying.
A workplace that is free of harassment and respects the dignity of all students, faculty and staff is a goal for the labor-management joint campaign around workplace bullying. CUNY management committed to a joint campaign as part of the 2017-2023 PSC-CUNY contract.
During the pandemic, workplace bullying has not vanished with members reporting incidents of excessive reporting of work, retaliation for speaking up about increased workload and deliberate isolation from colleagues to carry out work initiatives. In October during National Bullying Prevention month, some PSC members organized dozens of events to highlight the issue and expose the effects of unchecked bullying. At the December 10 delegate assembly meeting, PSC delegates passed a resolution that would form an ad hoc anti-bullying committee.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29
Two thousand union members attended a PSC mass online meeting, where union leaders reflect and chart a path for the months ahead.
CUNY funding, mass adjunct layoffs, anti-racism efforts, reopening safety and November federal and state elections are among the topics in a virtual PSC meeting where union leadership asserts the challenges facing CUNY and PSC members should not be minimized. PSC members are up against serious political and economic power, and one of the essential tasks moving forward is to engage in one-on-one conversations with every single member in the 30,000 bargaining unit to build solidarity and assess the way forward.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9
CUNY delays November 15 contractual raises with no clear signal on when raises will go into effect.
Citing no savings target or plan on when raises will go into effect, CUNY tells PSC leadership that they plan to delay the contractually obligated 2% raises due to PSC members on November 15. The union’s own projections estimate that PSC members will lose collectively more than $800,000 a week and $3 million a month. CUNY management also announces five-day unpaid furloughs for managers on the executive compensation plan. PSC President Barbara Bowen calls the furloughs “theater” that will do little to change the budget picture. The union considers filing a class action grievance in response to the raise delay.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19
PSC delegates amend the PSC constitution to include a standing anti-racism committee.
Contributing to “dismantling the structures, practices and ideology of racism” and “achieving racial justice within the City University, the union, the city and beyond” are the mandates of this constitutional committee. The union has had an anti-racism committee in the past, but the constitutional requirement formalizes the committee at a time of systemic police brutality and racist disinvestment of CUNY, a public university system where the majority of students are people of color.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23
PSC delegates pass a resolution around strike readiness.
CUNY is one of the university systems in the country most affected by the coronavirus epidemic. The union refuses to “normalize” the conditions caused by this crisis. In a special delegate assembly, PSC delegates committed to an ambitious membership campaign, where members talk to one another and build union power and create strike readiness.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2
More than 800 people attend a CUNY Rising Alliance virtual town hall to discuss “New Deal for CUNY,” legislation that would reimagine public investment in CUNY.
The PSC, along with community and labor allies, share plans to introduce the New Deal for CUNY bill during the 2021 state legislative session. The draft legislation has a five-year phase-in and includes free CUNY tuition for in-state undergraduates, more mental health counselors and academic advisors, increasing the ratio of full-time faculty to students, professionalizing adjunct compensation, and investment in critical infrastructure needs.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4
HUNDREDS ATTEND THE FORUM, “WE CHARGE GENOCIDE”.
The union’s International Committee held a forum, attended by hundreds of people to discuss Paul Robeson’s 1951 petition “We Charge Genocide” to the UN that aimed to hold the U.S. government accountable for the atrocities committed against Black people. The forum, featuring scholars from CUNY and around the world, aimed to put the struggle against racism and imperialism in the context of the pandemic.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 7
PSC members submit testimony to the CUNY Board of Trustees on the impact of increased class sizes on their teaching and students’ learning.
As part the union’s campaign against increases – sometimes dramatic ones – in class size caps, members testified to the CUNY Board on the ill effects of ballooning class sizes. With the support of the PSC and its local chapters, faculty governance bodies at Brooklyn College, Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College have all passed resolutions on class size caps. The union initiates discussions with department chairs in an effort to ensure that the situation does not become the “new normal” and demands that CUNY bargain over the impact of class size increases as required by New York State law.