By ANDREA VÁSQUEZ
In the last PSC contract with CUNY, Higher Education Officers (HEOs) made some important gains for improving our opportunities for reclassification and salary advancement. HEOs do not have a promotional system, as faculty have, and many of us experience the frustration of being unable to advance in salary although we have increased responsibilities. The 2010-2017 contract included a new provision for a salary increment of $2,500 for HEOs at the top step for their rank, and introduced improvements in the system of reclassification to higher ranks. Since the contract was ratified, HEOs have been the driving force in implementing these provisions and have shown how a strategy of member-driven contract enforcement can build union power. We now find ourselves in a strong position to confront the anti-union Supreme Court decision expected in Janus v. AFSCME, and we are better prepared to begin negotiating our next collective bargaining agreement.
At every CUNY campus HEOs have stepped up to serve as PSC representatives on labor management committees whose charge is to be the first to review applications for a salary assignment differential. At a time when conservative forces are counting on weakening worker organizations, this increased activism and contract enforcement has led to a feeling of “ownership” of our benefits, our contract and our union. Members have participated in contract training sessions, informational meetings on the new benefits and PSC HEO chapter meetings. These actions, along with the support work of HEO delegates and PSC staff, led to the formation of all 22 labor management committees. Many HEOs have begun to receive the $2,500 raise. Additionally, there was an upswing in the number of applications and approvals for reclassification, as members have been educating themselves and each other on all opportunities for advancement.
Letters of commendation, excellent evaluations, skills certificates and a clear ability to master additional duties over time – these are some of the ways that HEOs have met the criteria for the new salary increase. The successes have often been smooth and swift. At Queensborough Community College, over a dozen applications went all the way through to presidential approval. And at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, a total of five differentials went through the process successfully in less than a month.
We have seen 64 submissions: 30 have received the differential, and more are in the pipeline; three have applied for reclassification instead. Members are monitoring the applications locally and the union is diligently following up and intervening when necessary.
Serious problems persist on several campuses, particularly those that relate to funding. Initially, the Hunter College administration attempted to postpone implementation of the new contract provision for 18 months, claiming there wasn’t enough money in their budget. The PSC began grievance proceedings (because a college may not unilaterally decide to postpone implementing our contract), which led the administration to consider the applications. Ultimately, Hunter granted the differential to four HEOs. At City College, members who were approved in the HEO labor management committee passed the recommendations along to the College HEO Committee (also known as the Screening Committee) and were then told that the applications were being put “on hold” due to budget. The College HEO Committees are charged with evaluating the applications based solely on the contract language: “accretion of duties or excellence of performance.” The College HEO Committee may not use the college’s budget as an excuse to deny the differential. The PSC is now filing a grievance against City College and two other colleges because of “improper application of criteria for eligibility.”
At John Jay College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College members and HEO labor management committee members waited from three to six months to hear about the decision, and at Hostos Community College an application inexplicably languished in human resources for many months. Members should not be subjected to these wildly uneven implementation experiences. CUNY agreed to this provision and members deserve a smooth and respectful process that encourages this opportunity for advancement. In the PSC’s demands for the upcoming contract, we will fight to improve the process and guarantee that the work HEOs do for CUNY and its students is recognized.
There are still more than 400 HEOs across CUNY who are eligible for the salary differential, and they are encouraged to consider applying. Others who are not yet at the top step should begin to create a portfolio of material that can be used in the future to make the case for the salary differential or reclassification.
Raises are great and should be fought for and received. And reclassifications are great and should be granted whenever someone is working out of title. But the picture is broader than that; it is about engaging and activating members. As a result of the work HEOs have done and as we kick off the next contract campaign, we find ourselves in a strengthened position. The contract work has made the PSC more visible on campus, and the membership-building that has accompanied contract enforcement has fortified our numbers. In the face of Janus and other attacks on working people, the link between contract enforcement, member activism and union power is apparent. As always, it’s on us to continue to strengthen, improve and defend our gains as we move forward together in defense of our working conditions, the students we serve and this public university system.
Andrea Vásquez is the HEO PSC chapter chair.