CUNY workers talk strike
By Special to Workers World
New York
Published Oct 9, 2005 11:13 PM

More than 1,200 members of the Professional Staff Congress met here Sept. 29 to hear a report on the state of contract negotiations. The PSC, a local of the American Federation of Teachers representing some 20,000 faculty members and staff at the City University of New York, has been without a contract since 2002 and without a raise since 2001.

Under New York State’s Taylor Law, which forbids strikes by public employees, the provisions of the expired contract remain in force.

Barbara Bowen, the PSC president, explained to rousing cheers and applause from the overflow crowd how patiently and carefully the union had presented its position to management, how it had made clear that it could not accept a concessionary contract, especially when the City has a $3.5 billion surplus and the State has settled a contract with the State Univer sity faculty union containing a 15 percent raise over four years.

But university management does not want to go above the 4.17 percent raise over 37 months that the City set in earlier contracts. Any raise over that must be funded by “productivity” increases—union members working harder. It especially wants to continue relying on 9,600 adjunct teachers, who teach a majority of CUNY’s courses for substandard wages and benefits.

The overwhelming majority of the students in CUNY are the daughters, sons or members of the working class of New York, predominantly people of color. This city’s establishment, run by bankers and business owners like the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, doesn’t consider it a political priority to provide them with a quality higher education. The PSC sees its struggle for a decent contract as part of the students’ struggle for a decent education.

President Bowen announced that—after a month of intense negotiations with management, a month of discussion among union members, two days of lunchtime picketing at the 20 campuses that make up the CUNY system, and reaching out to CUNY students and their communities—the union’s executive board will decide Nov. 3 whether or not to hold a strike referendum among all the union’s members.

Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, an AFT division representing primary and high school teachers in New York City, said at the rally that if New York City does not substantially increase its offer, she would recommend to her membership that they also vote, sometime in the latter part of October, to authorize a strike.

Mayor Bloomberg has been running for reelection, touting all his great “successes” in education, but not mentioning the teachers who do the work. With tensions rising, Bloomberg and the UFT negotiators came to an agreement four days after the PSC meeting. If ratified, the teachers will work a bit less than he wanted, but still more hours than they do now. They will give up some grievance protection and get a 15 percent raise over 4 years, rather than 11 percent over 37 months.

At the PSC rally, Darlyn Lawson, recording secretary of Transit Workers Union 100, also gave a strong message of solidarity, expressing her union’s gratitude for PSC solidarity during the TWU’s struggle for a contract in 2002.

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