Union faculty and adjuncts held a rally on Lehman College campus last Thursday where they delivered a petition for a “fair” contract to President Fernando Delgado.
The rally at Lehman was one of three Professional Staff Congress City University of New York union demonstrations held on the same day with the others being Hostos Community College and Bronx Community College.
Since the union’s contract expired in February more than 30,000 PSC-CUNY represented staff and faculty have been working without a collective bargaining agreement. While negotiations for a new contract began in the summer, members say CUNY management’s “bargaining agenda” would undermine the rights and working conditions of its members.
“What CUNY is doing is treating us like an institution that can be taken apart and thrown on the side because, of course, they think our students are disposable,” said Marianne Pita, a BCC professor. “They think that we are disposable, and particularly in the Bronx I have to say we are a marginalized community college within a university that is being marginalized and that is unacceptable. We want to be treated with respect. We want our students to be treated with respect.”
PSC-CUNY members at the three schools demonstrated support for the PSC’s contract for hashtag “APeoplesCUNYCampaign,” which include raises, promotions and job security. One of the groups involved in the movement is CUNY Rising Alliance, a coalition of students, labor and community organizations organizing for the passage of the New Deal for CUNY, legislation that would set minimum faculty to student ratios, upgrade deteriorating infrastructure and make CUNY tuition-free.
“As I always said to every faculty member here, they are the foundation for all of us,” Juan Vasquez, a BCC student, told The Riverdale Press. “They’ve been here longer, setting up the pillars of support for each and every one of us students. They take the time out of their day to stay afterwards and help the students more.
“I think it’s only right and fair that we students also do our part in securing a fair and good contract for the faculty because what’s good for them is good for us and likewise what’s good for us is good for them.”
The contract demands employees across the board receive an 8 percent salary increase in the first two years and 4 percent raise in the subsequent three years of the new contract. They also demand CUNY provides remote work 40 percent per week and a path for adjuncts to full-time positions.
Each of the three college PSC groups also had demands specific for their respective school. For Lehman College those demands are based around payments, health and classes.
“I think from my heart that it’s important for us to have solidarity with each other in terms of students, faculty, staff,” chapter chair for PSC at Lehman College, David Manier, told The Press. “We’re all in this same boat together and realistically the government really should be providing a good education for its citizens, including higher education. It should be a right and that’s why CUNY started. And over the years they’ve been taking away from that and students have not been getting the first class experience that they deserve. It’s time to turn that around and have a new deal for CUNY.”
In the letter of demands to Delgado, members demanded an implementation of an efficient and transparent process for all staff and faculty to be paid on time, regardless of the basis for compensation.
As well as a guarantee that no class that has at least eight registered students will be canceled for low enrollment, and if a class does get canceled students and faculty must be given notice at least within four weeks of doing so.
While Delgado was not present at the demonstration that took place on campus, the interim provost and senior vice president Jorge Silva-Puras met with the about 10 rally goers at 5 p.m.
One of the demands that was brought up to Silva-Puras was ensuring healthy and safe working environments and measures to promote mental health and well-being. Stuart Chen-Hayes, a professor of counselor education, school counseling and clinical mental health counseling, said that administration needs to provide real-time data for air quality, as well as masks for Covid.
“We need our administration to take care of our brains and our students’ brains and our health,” Chen-Hayes said.
“I had a colleague who died from (Covid), I had a student who died from it. Covid hasn’t gone away, but the politicians are acting as if it is. We need you all to protect us.”
Silva-Puras told The Press he found the demands favorable, having heard their concerns and demands on previous occasions.
“There are demands that are Lehman specific which we have more control of,” Silva-Puras said.
“There are demands that are CUNY-wide which have to be agreed at the CUNY level system. On the ones that are Lehman-specific,
“I think we have quite a few ways to find a resolution. Maybe not to all of them, but certainly to a good number of them.”
Chen-Hayes, an elected delegate to the campus union chapter of CUNY, explained how this was the union’s fifth action in two weeks. They recently did a reverse trick or treat on campus promoting the contract and goals while dressed as “scary CUNY administrators.”
Manier said that he’s found previous conversations about union issues with Silva-Puras, Delgado, and labor designee Bridget Barbera to be positive.
“I find them to be good, in terms of being able to listen, never saying something like we can’t help you with that,” Manier said. “There’s never just a flat ‘no.’ So they will listen and they will do what they can and I do appreciate that.”
Commenting on the union’s demands, a Lehman College spokesperson stated, “CUNY Central is currently in negotiations with PSC and the other unions representing CUNY employees for new collective bargaining agreements. Lehman College does not comment on ongoing contract negotiations.”