November 5, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Dozens of CUNY faculty and staff working without a contract for the last five years and fed up with chronic underfunding, subjected themselves to massive arrest this week when they blocked the East 42nd Street entrances to CUNY Central late Wednesday afternoon.
“We are prepared to get arrested because we have been at the bargaining table for over a year and a half — we’ve been without a contract for five years, and we’ve been without a raise for six years,” CUNY Graduate Center staffer Andrea Vasquez told LaborPress. “We were already at the bottom of salaries. Our salaries have gone done compared to other city workers and state workers and others in higher eduction. We feel that the offer that CUNY made to us is an insulting offer after all this time. It doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living. It’s actually asking us to take a wage cut.”
CUNY is reportedly prepared to offer faculty and staff a six-year contract with a six percent wage increase.
The Professional Staff Congress, the union representing 27,000 faculty staff throughout the City University of New York, argues that CUNY faculty salaries lag far behind those at comparable universities in the region, and do not cover six years of inflation and rent hikes.
Alan Aja, an associate professor in Brooklyn College’s Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department, said that the economic climate is putting an “undue hardship” on his family and he blames both Governor Cuomo and CUNY administrators.
“I think it’s a combination of a lack of funding from the governor, and also the administration that continues to hire deans and administrators at twice our salaries, while we haven’t had a raise in six years and struggle from paycheck to paycheck," he said.
The NYPD was out in full force througout the demonstration, and fully prepared to start hauling people off to jail as it neared 5 p.m.
“We really need to take it to another level,” Vasquez said just before joining the blockade. “We don’t feel CUNY Chancellor James Milliken has done his job fighting for funding in Albany.”
PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen recently talked about contract talks and a looming strike authorization vote during a recent episode of LaborPress Radio on WWRL 1600 AM.
Vital CUNY funding comes from both the state and city. The union, however, says that funding has continually waned over the last several years, putting increasing pressure on professors, part-time adjunct instructors and the students themselves — half of which have family incomes of less than $30,000 annually.
“Our working conditions are our students’ learning experiences,” City Tech professor Cospas Panayopakis told LaborPress. “CUNY has been under attack for a long time. The state has not invested in the education of our students, and the offer that they just made us is in line with this lack of commitment.”
According to the union, CUNY’s lack of investment is also limiting the system — the largest urban public university system in the nation — and it’s ability to both retain outstanding instructors and attract new talent.
“We have problems,” Panayopakis said. “We can’t keep up.”