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CUNY Staffers Sink Teeth Into Cuomo

March 11, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

DC37 staffers hold up signs calling out Governor Cuomo.
DC37 holds up sign calling out Governor Cuomo.

New York, NY – Governor Cuomo’s efforts to eliminate nearly a half billion dollars in state funding for the City University of New York is already generating charges that the chief executive has got a serious axe to grind against the venerable institution, and that he is, once again, trying hard to stick it to archrival Mayor Bill de Blasio. At a joint labor rally outside the governor’s Third Avenue offices on Thursday, DC37 members went further, suggesting Cuomo cares more about fast food workers than he does CUNY workers. 

“If the governor is so concerned about McDonald’s workers getting $15 an hour, the least he can do is give us a cost of living raise,” Debbie McNally, an administrative assistant at the College of Staten Island, told LaborPress. “I think you should take care of people in your own house instead of worrying about everyone else.” 

Roughly 10,000 DC37 members — college assistants to custodians — work for CUNY. More than half of them earn less than $10 an hour. Cuomo angered rank and file members in January, when he announced that the $15 an hour minimum wage hike promised to struggling fast food workers was also being phased in for State University of New York workers. CUNY workers were left out of the move. 

Organized labor fills the streets outside Cuomo's offices.
Organized labor fills the streets outside Cuomo’s offices.

“Because we have not had raises since ’08, the morale is horrible,” Diane Sweeting, an administrative assistant at Bronx Community College told LaborPress on Thursday. “Everything has gone up — transit has gone up, my mortgage has gone up. Everything has gone up, except for our salaries. Now [Governor Cuomo] is so busy promoting the $15 an hour minimum wage, but we’re no better off than fast food workers.”

The Cuomo administration argues that the $485 million it wants to eliminate from CUNY’s coffers won’t hurt the system, and is an effort, in part, to have the City of New York pick up some more of the slack. 

“It’s not going to affect students? This is not true,” Mavis Hastick, another Bronx Community College administrative assistant told LaborPress. “I work at a CUNY college every day. I hear their cries every day. We are feeling the brunt as well. So, [Governor Cuomo] is absolutely not telling the truth.”

One DC37 member’s sign reading, “Hey, Cuomo. Do You Want to See Our Fangs?” appeared to reference a Village Voice article published earlier this week, in which writer Nick Pinto surmised the governor is nursing a festering gripe against CUNY and the union representing faculty and staff there — while also taking the opportunity to score some more points in his ongoing feud with Mayor de Blasio.

PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen called it “ludicrous” to think that a nearly half a billion dollar budget cut can be successfully offset by a series of cost saving measures — and that the governor just might be trying to use CUNY as a tool to further bludgeon Hizzoner. 

“We could be,” Bowen told LaborPress. “But there was a pattern of disinvestment in CUNY before there was an apparent feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. Under Governor Cuomo, funding from the state per student, has actually diminished by three percent. And we’re still 17-percent behind where we were before the recession. Funding has gone down, so it’s a pattern.”

Bowen called the loss of $485 million in funding a “massive, crushing cut” and dismissed Cuomo administration assertions that it represents a cost cut to the city.

“I can’t speak to what Cuomo’s intentions are,” Bowen added. “I can only speak about what I’m seeing, which is a massive, crushing cut. Cuomo describes it as a cost cut to the city — but unless the city had already agreed to accept that, I don’t see how that can really be described as a cost shift.”

College of Staten Island employee Joanne German said that she wants to believe Governor Cuomo isn’t behaving vindictively and “baring his fangs at CUNY,” as is being suggested. 

“I want to believe that he isn’t,” German said. “I would imagine that somebody professional like that wouldn’t feel that way, and act under those circumstances. I hope not.”

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