NEW YORK, N.Y.—The Professional Staff Congress union and the City University of New York announced Oct. 23 that they have reached a tentative contract agreement to cover the system’s almost 30,000 full- and part-time faculty and professional staff.
The 5¼-year deal would be retroactive to Dec. 1, 2017 and run through Feb. 28, 2023. If approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees and ratified by the PSC’s membership, it would increase salaries across the board by 2% a year.
It would also increase starting pay for the about 12,000 adjunct faculty by 71%, from the current minimum of $3,222 for a three-credit course for adjunct lecturers to $5,500 in 2022. The minimum would go up to $4,467 next spring, in part because the deal would pay adjuncts for one hour of office time for each three-credit course they teach, according to a PSC spokesperson. The current contract gives no paid office time for adjuncts who teach one class and one hour for those who teach two or three.
“This is an important contract nationally,” PSC President Barbara Bowen told LaborPress. “It benefits from the huge struggles by other low-wage workers, such as fast-food workers. We took a similar approach.”
Because “adjunct faculty are low-wage workers,” she explains, the union concentrated on raising the minimum for them and other lower-paid faculty and staff, about 3,300. The deal would give lab technicians a $2,500-a-year raise, $1,500 for the lowest-paid teaching titles (lecturers and instructors in the university’s remedial and English-as-a-second-language programs), and $1,000 for entry-level office staff.
There was “a lot of unity between full-time and part-time staff,” Bowen adds. “We had tremendous support from the full-time faculty for this gain for adjuncts.”
The raises for adjuncts, however, fell short of the union’s $7,000-a-course demand. Adjunct professors, the highest-ranking title, would get $6,500 for a three-credit course in 2022, and the minimum for a four-credit course would be $6,875.
That still leaves CUNY “behind the standards at other colleges,” says Claire Cahen, an adjunct at Hunter College and New York City College of Technology while working on a Ph.D. in environmental psychology. Adjuncts at Barnard College get $10,000 a course, she told LaborPress, and those at Fordham University get $8,000.
Cahen, part of the “$7K or Strike” ad hoc committee, said if the ratification vote were held today, she would vote no. The deal “would still put adjuncts below the poverty line,” and they won’t reach the new $5,500 minimum until 2022. “We need immediate relief, and this contract doesn’t bring that.”
“Making ambitious demands helps move the process forward,” Bowen says. “We didn’t get all the way there, but we felt that an increase of this size, plus the other very important features, made it a deal we could accept.”
Those other features include getting tuition paid for graduate-student CUNY employees in their sixth and seventh years. This has been a longtime PSC demand, Bowen says, as the average time it takes to complete a Ph.D. is slightly more than eight years, but CUNY tuition waivers expired after five years—“just when you need time to finish your dissertation.”
The proposed contract also includes, for the first time, protections for online teaching. The previous agreement, Bowen says, won health-insurance coverage for adjuncts who teach at least two courses a semester. The new one would fund health- coverage for their prescription drugs, dental, and vision care, as well as coverage for a group of graduate employees who had been ineligible.
It’s also a big gain for students, she says, because it will mean adjuncts will be able to spend more time with them.
“This agreement reflects the University’s strong and unwavering commitment to its faculty, both full-time and part-time, and staff across our 25 colleges,” CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, who took office in May, said in a statement. “All of our faculty will now devote more time to meeting with and advising students and engaging in professional development. This will be crucial to our efforts to increase graduation rates, enhance learning, and remain a premier university.”
New York State United Teachers, which the PSC is affiliated with, called it “a critical breakthrough on the issue of economic justice for adjunct faculty.”
The PSC’s bargaining team and executive council have already approved the deal. The Delegate Assembly will vote Nov. 7 on whether to send it to members. The membership vote would be a few weeks later, says Bowen. If it’s ratified, that means there will be no CUNY employees working under an expired contract.