NEW YORK, N.Y.—More than 200 City University professors and supporters rallied outside City Hall March 14, calling on the city and state to increase funding for the university system and give them a raise—including doubling adjunct professors’ pay to $7,000 a course.

President Barbara Bowen leads PSC-CUNY  “7K or Strike” rally at City Hall.

New York talks about how it’s a “progressive” state, Professional Staff Congress head Barbara Bowen said, but it’s funded the city’s public university system over the past several years by “increasing tuition and exploiting our labor.”

The 30,000 faculty and professional staff PSC represents at the City University of New York have been working under an expired contract for 15 months. Full-time professors’ salaries average thousands of dollars less than those at other large public universities, such as Stony Brook, Ohio State, and the University of Maryland-College Park. But the situation is worst for the 12,000 adjuncts, the temporarily hired instructors who teach most of CUNY’s classes, according to the union. They average $28,000 a year for teaching four courses a semester, which would be a heavy workload for a full-time professor.

“We’re talking minimum-wage jobs,” New York City Central Labor Council head Vinny Alvarez told the City Hall rally, which followed an earlier protest outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown offices.

Rebecca Smart, who teaches psychology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Baruch College, and Fordham University, told LaborPress she spends two to four hours a day commuting from her home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Manhattan and the Bronx—but “I’m still broke. If I don’t get a summer class, I can’t pay my rent.”

For the last three summers, Smart says, she’s fallen behind far enough to need a “one-shot deal”—a one-time city public-assistance payment that covers back rent for people facing eviction proceedings, to prevent them from becoming homeless.

For the last three summers, [Psychology teacher Rebecca Smart] says she’s fallen behind far enough to need a “one-shot deal”—a one-time city public-assistance payment that covers back rent for people facing eviction proceedings, to prevent them from becoming homeless.

Adjuncts at Fordham recently won a three-year contract that will raise their pay from $4,200 a class to between $7,000 and $8,000 in 2021, Smart adds. Holding a “$7K or Strike” sign, she says, “that is our best way to get what we need.” 

United Federation of Teachers vice-president Janella Hinds, New York State Nurses Association vice-president Patricia James, and District Council 37 leader Henry Garrido also spoke. Garrido called CUNY adjuncts’ low pay “unconscionable.”

CUNY’s last contract offer was “inadequate financially,” PSC bargaining-committee member Luke Elliott-Negri told LaborPress, because it did not have a clear source of funding. “To resolve the wage-justice issue, we need a specific pot of money dedicated to it,” he explained.

The union presented a counteroffer later in the afternoon, but did not release details.

Per-student state funding for CUNY senior colleges decreased 18% between 2008 and 2018 after being adjusted for inflation, according to the PSC. With tuition up 40% since 2011, “we’re paying more, and there are less faculty full-timers,” Haris Khan, a City College senior who’s the sole student representative on CUNY’s board of trustees, told the rally.

“CUNY is the people’s university,” he added. It’s easy to put up a billboard proclaiming it “the greatest urban university in the world,” but the funding cuts are saying that education is “not a priority.”

“It’s crucial for our students’ learning conditions and our teaching conditions to move from poverty wages to almost a living wage,” says Conor Tomas Reed, who teaches African and American studies at Brooklyn College and says he makes “$3,200 and change” per course before taxes.

PSC chapters at nine CUNY campuses have passed “$7,000 or strike” resolutions, he says. “Like the education strikes around the country, it’s time for CUNY to show our power. Because this is a public university worth fighting for.”

While the union has demanded an increase in adjuncts’ pay to $7,000 a course, it has not called for a strike over the issue, a PSC spokesperson tells LaborPress. The resolutions the nine chapters passed, he adds, urged “a comprehensive strategy to win $7,000, moving from internal education and organizing to community coalition-building, legislative advocacy, and public pressure, including large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike.”


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