May 22, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Frustration levels were high outside the CUNY Research Foundation's 230 West 41st headquarters on Tuesday, as employees who have been working without a contract since last December hit the payment to protest what many view as management's increasing greed and hostility. (Watch Video)
"I've never experienced this type of insistence on taking advantage of people that work with you every day," Central Office Chapter Chair Anthony Dixon told Laborpress. "Research Management has decided that it's important for them to squeeze as much as they can out of the union members."
The Research Foundation (RF) is a private, not-for-profit educational corporation that supports City University of New York faculty and staff in identifying and obtaining external support from government and private sponsors.
According to PSC-CUNY Associate Executive Director Naomi Zauderer, the two sides are "not even close" to reaching an agreement on a new contract.
"We've already gone as for as we can to meet them more than halfway and they're still not moving," Zauderer said.
The union says it has agreed to give ground in several crucial areas including the percentage that employees have to pay on rising health care premiums, reduced sick leave accrual time and the amount of pay employees receive should they be laid-off.
"We've already agreed to increase the employee contribution to the health insurance premium from 19 percent to 21 percent in the first year for all of the health plans," Zauderer said. "And then it would go up to 22 percent in the third year for two of the plans."
What workers adamantly refuse to accept, however, is management's bid to significantly downgrade new hires with what essential would amount to the creation of a secondary payment tier.
"We do not want new hires to be earning a lower wage than current employees," Zauderer said. "That is just something that we are not prepared to accept. That would create division in our bargaining unit and would begin to sow the seeds of dissension in the future."
Far from reaching an amicable accord, the Research Foundation management team further set teeth on edge this week by hiring armed security officers while they held their board of directors meeting on May 21.
"We are not strangers to them," Dixon said. "We are people that work with them every day. They say good morning to us every day and goodnight when we leave. But at the same time, they feel a need to hire armed security to protect themselves against us. This is an example of the mindset of the people who are in charge of the Research Foundation. They insist on dealing with this entitlement mentality where they are the only ones entitled to benefit from working at the Research Foundation."
With 27 years on the job, this is the fourth contract that Dixon has helped negotiate – and by far the hardest.
"The Research Foundation, to my understanding, is a non-profit organization," Dixon said. "But for some reason, management feels the need to make the biggest profit that they can, and I can only wonder what's the point of making such a large profit when you don't want to share with your union employees. What are you doing with the money?
Zauder sees management's intransigence as a cynical opportunity to take advantage of what some perceive as a sputtering labor movement that is presently struggling on the ropes.
"They see unions accepting concessions throughout the country and they see that unions are under attack," Zauderer said. "They see the Wisconsin governor eliminating collective bargaining fro public employees and they want to get in on it. They feel that unions are on the defensive and they think they have the opportunity to squeeze more out of us."
While happy for the support they've received from brother and sister unions, Zauderer emphasized the need for organized labor to look at the bigger picture.
"There needs to be greater solidarity," Zauderer said. "Every union right now is struggling with their own fights."
A federal mediator is presently helping to facilitate Research Foundation contract negotiations.