Union protests equity violations as university breaches contract on staff pay

Members of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty-staff union at the City University of New York, rallied in front of CUNY’s offices on Presidents Day to demand that administrators stop withholding the $1,000 annual pay increases meant to address inequity among low-paid full-time university staff—a group composed primarily of women and people of color.

CUNY holds sign that says honor our contract

Waving signs like “Honor Our Contract” and “Solidarity with CUNY Faculty and Staff,” more than 100 PSC members and community allies stood outside—socially distanced, masked and bundled up against the February cold—to chant “no contract, no peace” and demand equity and justice.

The pay increases were negotiated in the union’s last contract specifically to address gender and racial inequity, but were delayed with no warning on Feb. 10, the day before they were to first appear in paychecks. They were supposed to go to each of the 1,295 people in a position called “assistant to the higher education officer.” Employees in this position typically work in offices and in student service roles, on everything from institutional research and data processing to community relations and financial aid.

Similar equity increases of $1,500 per year, expected to take effect April 1 for 1,300 lecturers who are nontenure-track faculty—another underpaid worker group—are also being delayed.

The cost of the increases, $1.2 million, would be a small portion of CUNY’s multibillion-dollar budget, the union points out. In addition, CUNY management has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the CARES Act and other federal COVID-19 relief programs. Due to state budget constraints, the annual 2 percent pay increase has already been put on hold; the equity increases are a separate matter, and management had assured the PSC that they would be paid. 

“There is no excuse under any circumstances for withholding a contractual raise, but with CUNY still holding tens of millions of CARES Act money, it is totally outrageous,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen and PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez in a press release. “Enough is enough!”

Meanwhile, PSC continues to fight for legislation that would repair some of the fiscal damage done to CUNY by long-standing austerity measures and exacerbated by the pandemic. The New Deal for CUNY was introduced Feb. 12 in the state Legislature, with measures that would boost funding for this institution that is well-known for serving a large number of low-income, Black and Latinx students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

Among the New Deal provisions are free tuition, repairing CUNY’s crumbling infrastructure, more counselors (to improve ratios from 1 counselor to 2,700 students, to 1 counselor to 1,000 students), and improving pay and job security for adjunct faculty. Funding for these measures would come, in part, from higher taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

The AFT recently partnered with the American Association of University Professors to launch the broader New Deal for Higher Education, which calls for canceling student debt, equitable access to colleges and universities, and job security for faculty and staff.

[Virginia Myers]