New York City faculty union votes to authorize strike

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After more than six years without a raise and five years without a contract, 92 percent of Professional Staff Congress union members, who are faculty at the City University of New York, have voted to authorize a strike to achieve a fair contract. The resounding "yes" vote was the result of a strike authorization vote held May 2-11.
PSC President Barbara Bowen, who is an AFT vice president, says the union remains committed to resolving the contract through negotiations and will not take any job action during the current academic year, but could take action in the fall if left with no alternative.   
"A 92 percent vote to authorize a strike demonstrates that the CUNY faculty and staff are willing to fight for the working conditions we deserve and the learning conditions our students deserve," she said in a news release. "The union's goal is to reach a fair contract without needing to strike, but the CUNY administration must put a decent economic offer on the table. CUNY's substandard pay and conditions are endangering the university's core mission of teaching, learning and research."
The union hopes to build on the growing public and legislative support for funding the contract, she added. "After six years without a raise, many of us are struggling to keep up with the cost of living for ourselves and are alarmed at the threat to academic quality at CUNY."
Photo: Jonathan Westin, PSC supporter and executive director of New York Communities for Change
The vote is not a vote to strike; it is a vote to authorize the union's executive council to call a strike or other job action if a fair contract cannot be achieved any other way. More than 10,000 PSC members participated in the vote. The total yes vote represents an absolute majority of eligible voters. It is the first strike authorization vote the PSC has taken since 1973. 
CUNY provides a high-quality education to more than 500,000 students, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color from poor communities. But its 25,000 professors and staff have seen the value of their pay plummet against New York City's rising cost of living. The university system is struggling to retain faculty and hobbled in its recruitment efforts by uncompetitive salaries. "In my department, of the 11 untenured faculty hired in the last 10 years, seven left before a tenure vote, driven off by low pay, poor working conditions, crumbling buildings, heavy teaching loads and lack of support for research," said Kevin Foster, chair of the economics and business department at City College of New York. 
"During this past six years with no raise, I've earned tenure, published a co-edited book, and taught a couple thousand CUNY students, many of whom face struggles academically and in their lives. Yet for nearly two years now I have needed a roommate in my Queens studio apartment to help cover my rent," says Deborah Gambs, in the sociology department at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. "I'm not a starving artist! I am a tenured professional with a full-time job, who lives in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. I should be putting all my energy toward my students, who are working to overcome challenges far greater than the ones I face, but stagnant pay and rising costs don't allow me to do that." 
A strike authorization vote is unusual for a public sector union in New York, but it is legal. While state law imposes financial and legal penalties on public sector unions and employees who participate in strikes or other job actions, the vote itself is within the law. PSC members voted in favor of strike authorization, understanding how high the stakes are for their students and themselves. 
[PSC Press Release]