The PSC bargaining team met with CUNY management representatives on January 26 to begin negotiating a new contract.
The session focused on preliminary matters: understandings about how the negotiations would proceed, and time-sensitive contract provisions and agreements that may be renewed or extended. While no formal ground rules were established, the two sides reached a shared understanding about how future sessions and subcommittees would be conducted.
Reaching agreement about procedures went much more smoothly than in the past. This time, there was no discussion of limits on the union’s ability to invite members to attend sessions as observers – a right the PSC has fought for and won in the past.
“We are negotiating on behalf of the faculty and staff, and they should be able to see the process at work; we invite members to attend future sessions,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen.
These negotiations will produce a successor agreement to the contract that expired October 19. Under New York State law, relations terms of the old contract remain in effect while bargaining proceeds.
In addition to the procedural issues, the negotiating teams agreed to establish three subcommittees on technical issues or provisions that need to be addressed immediately because they included time limits when originally negotiated. The subcommittees – on paid parental leave; an existing agreement on certain payroll practices; and issues involved in determining the cost of the contract – will begin work promptly and make recommendations to the full bargaining teams.
Neither side presented contract demands, although the PSC gave a brief statement on its position that a short-term economic crisis must not be used to degrade working conditions at CUNY.
“We have seen in the past how temporary fiscal crises can lead to permanent damage for the University,” Bowen said.
The PSC indicated that the union is prepared to present demands, and asked CUNY for an economic offer. Management’s representatives said they were not prepared to make an offer, and discussed the relation of CUNY to New York City and New York State.
“We on the bargaining team share the members’ desire for a speedy resolution of contract negotiations,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “But as things stand now, CUNY has made it clear that it is not prepared to put forward an economic offer, and both the mayor and the governor, whose support CUNY will seek before it will sign an agreement, are talking about 0% wage increases and concessions. If we don’t want to accept concessionary bargaining – and we don’t – this may be a long round of negotiations.”
PSC bargaining team member Andrea Ades Vasquez, a HEO at the Graduate Center, said she anticipates broader discussions going forward. “I believe we are off to a good start. Both sides recognize that the City and State are making it difficult for CUNY to receive the funding it needs and both agree that we need more full-time faculty,” Vasquez said. “But we in the PSC also have a larger vision for the University. Part-time faculty must have job security and decent wages. HEOs, who are taking on more and more, especially in light of others’ early retirements, must be given a path to advancement. Full-time faculty must be able to spend the time they need with individual students.”
Lorraine Cohen, professor of social science at LaGuardia and a bargaining team member, noted that the union’s power in negotiations comes less from what happens at the table and more from organizing on the campuses to build support for the PSC’s agenda.
In bargaining for a new contract, the PSC confronts a growing campaign “to destroy public-worker unions,” Cohen said. “We have to change the narrative. We have to reach not only our members and our students but also the larger public [and] build coalitions wherever possible.” The answer, Cohen said, “is not just cutting, but more revenue from those who can afford to pay.”
PSC members will have a chance to learn more about negotiations and how they can join the contract campaign at campus meetings that will be held across CUNY this semester. All meetings will be attended by President Barbara Bowen or one of the union’s other principal officers and several members of the bargaining team.