The Professional Staff Congress—the labor union that represents more than 25,000 faculty and staff across the City University of New York’s 24 campuses—has had a busy November. In the course of three weeks, the union has organized a coordinated act of civil disobedience, taken the first step towards calling for a strike, and helped deliver more than 40,000 postcards to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
And for good reason: Members of the PSC have worked without a contract for five years and have gone without a pay raise for six. Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has consistently divested state funds from the University, forcing students to foot an increasing share of costs like utility bills and rent.
Now, with the support of students and labor unions across the country, the PSC is trying to take matters into its own hands.
The first of the month’s three events came on November 4, when hundreds of PSC members and supporters protested for salary increases outside of the midtown Manhattan building that houses the offices of CUNY administrators. There, 53 faculty and staff members locked arms and refused to move until CUNY presented an “acceptable offer.” (During the protest, CUNY made an offer for a six-year contract, beginning in 2010, with salary raises totaling six percent by October 2016. The PSC swiftly rejected the proposal, claiming that, since the raise would be below the level of inflation, it would effectively be “a salary cut.”) Several hours later, all 53 participants in the sit-in were arrested.
According to the university, the proposal reflected “its current fiscal condition and its ability to fund a new contract.” A significant reason for these financial constraints: Since 2008, state funds for CUNY and the State University of New York have been cut by $1.5 billion. To make up for these cuts, in 2011, Governor Cuomo instituted a $300 yearly increase in tuition for both CUNY and SUNY students. This new revenue was meant to provide better educational resources for students, faculty, and staff. However, according to Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, that hasn’t been the case. “The 2011 tuition increases were sold to the legislature as a way to enhance resources at CUNY and SUNY, but they’ve only been used to fill the gap left behind by the governor’s chronic underfunding for public higher education,” she told The Nation.
That is why on November 20, the PSC, along with the CUNY University Student Senate and the New York Public Interest Research Group, delivered 40,000 postcards to Cuomo’s office demanding that the governor sign the Maintenance of Effort bill—legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the state senate and assembly that would require the state to cover inflationary and mandated costs at both university systems.