Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We Must Take What Is Ours: Hunter Teaches* Responds to PSC Contract Demands

The PSC, which is the union that holds a collective bargaining agreement between CUNY and some CUNY workers (including full-time and adjunct faculty, as well as Higher Education Officers), is re-opening negotiations on our contract after a nearly 3-year period where we have been working on no new contract (our last contract expired in 2010), in hopes that democratic hopefuls for Mayor will mean a better contract.  They are doing this along with a large number of other city unions, who after years of defeats from harsh labor legislation and severe restrictions on activity (such as striking) hang their hopes not on the movement of the rank-and-file workers, but on the politics of city government.

Although many of us feel that we are“lucky” to have a union at all, there is in fact little that can be won for adjuncts in the course of contract negotiations.  The contract was designed at a time when adjuncts made up a relatively small percentage of the union (as compared to 66% today) and our poor working conditions are reinforced by many parts of the agreement.

One of the primary concerns of adjuncts is job security.  Recently, the union released one demand for adjuncts for the upcoming negotiations.  While we are glad that there is recognition of our need for job security, we are dismayed by the demand itself and also by the prospect of negotiations occurring without the knowledge or input of the rank-and-file, and most likely over the summer when fewer of us are teaching.  Last week, group Cuny Contingents Unite held a meeting with adjunct union representatives and rank and file adjuncts and agreed that a demand for an immediate three-year contract for all adjuncts should be included in bargaining.  We are in full support of this demand, but we also feel that we cannot rely on the union to win it for us.  We want to unite with adjuncts to demand immediate long-term employment along with other demands around space, workload, pay, and health insurance (see below) regardless of whether the union takes up our call or not.  We know that our demands are likely to get whittled away in the course of bargaining, and we are prepared to fight for them as is, as adjuncts organized directly against management. This includes department chairs who are our bosses who are in the same union as us.  We have to be prepared to fight their practices head on, which cannot be bargained through our contract.

Below is what we think are problems with the demand that the PSC is making, and what we know is necessary to win actual job security for adjuncts.

Current Contract Demands - Article 12
“Adjunct Workforce Stability: A system of job stability for teaching adjuncts shall be introduced, such that adjuncts earn a Certificate of Continuous Employment in the adjunct title after teaching an average of 12 contact teaching hours a year in the same department in any 5 of the previous 7 years, and successfully undergoing a review by the department. An adjunct who has achieved a CCE shall be entitled to teach a minimum of 6 contact teaching hours per semester and would not be subject to non-reappointment, except for just cause. Teaching adjuncts who have completed an average of 12 contact teaching hours per year in any 10 of the past 12 years by the day following the expiration date of the 2007-2010 Agreement shall receive the CCE upon the effective date of this provision. (Article 12)”

Why this provision is woefully inadequate:
In order earn the “privilege” of a CCE, one has to teach an average of 12 credits a year (2 classes a semester) for 5 of 7 years and then go through a review process.  This is unacceptable for most of us, who will most likely not get 2 classes a semester for 5 consecutive years due to the work of the university to keep us off health insurance, and the political dimensions of the university and the power of the chairs might keep us from getting a positive review anyway.There are a number of problems with this aspect of the proposal:

  1. 2 classes/semester @$3,000/class= $12,000/year!
  2. Essentially, CUNY and the PSC expect an adjunct to live in a precarious situation for 5-7 years, making below poverty wages (we can remember, we may work other part time jobs, but being able to work for 5-7 years part time means being able to keep a flexible schedule since we are never guaranteed the times/days our classes will be taught; we are constantly going in and out of other part time work).  Furthermore, adjuncts can be fired (or NOT reappointed) anytime during this 5-7 years for whatever reason or no reason...so how many of us are likely to reach this mark?  Not to mention that this is to start in 2010, so long-time adjuncts are out of luck.
  3. And if we do reach this mark, what “privilege” are we actually earning? The privilege to teach 6 contact hours/semester (2 classes/semester) and not be fired unless for just cause. Instead of being guaranteed any kind of qualitative improvement of or wages, benefits, or working conditions, this demands proposes we continue working in the exact same exploitative conditions-- this contract demand is fighting to “win us” the “right” to for CUNY to only pay us $12,000/year! The only advantage is that Hunter can no longer fire us at will!  We wonder, why would Hunter want to fire us, if they have a highly educated, experience individual who wants to thank them for paying us $12,000/year.
  4. As recent examples have shown (see forthcoming letter on http://adjunctsforliberation.blogspot.com), the “review process” which was instituted in order to provide professional development and a to provide a track record for adjuncts who might hope to apply for other jobs, is easily turned into a tool of workplace discipline when combined with our precarity.  Further institutionalizing the review as a potential means to deny job security flies in the face of its initial intention and makes adjuncts even more vulnerable.

Essentially, this provision fights for “job security” at poverty wages, and we have to ask; is it job security for
adjuncts or security that the university knows they will have a highly exploitable labor pool for years and years on end?

What We Demand

Given these conditions, we cannot support this demand as it stands now.   We have to be ready to use any tools necessary, and not limit ourselves to bargaining through the contract, a situation which is already stacked against us.  We need to organize to confront management directly and as a collective when they retaliate against us, go on grade strike with the support of our students, walk and sick out, create picket lines, and in any other way we see fit assert our power as the fuel that teaches the vast majority of classes and keeps the University running.  We hope the union will support us in these efforts, but we will persist regardless.
Our demands include:
  1. Immediate health insurance for ALL adjuncts that is the SAME as full-time faculty health insurance
  2. 3 year-contracts for ALL adjuncts IMMEDIATELY, and its continuation after three years not contingent on DEPARTMENT review but on PEER review of a mix of adjuncts, students, and full-time faculty

  1. a significant increase in wages not based on an increased number of calculated hours, but instead one determined by the amount that adjuncts need to be able to teach our courses and not be forced seek other employment just to pay rent. 
  2. Guaranteed SPACE for each adjunct, including at least one OFFICE for each department and one DESK for each adjunct

It may seem daunting, but adjuncts at Hunter are already organizing around these demands.  We have an action coming in the next week or so that we need support for, so contact us at hunter.teaches@gmail.com if you want to take part.  We also have a story coming out in the Hunter Envoy, and will host an end of year meeting to discuss how to engage with the contract negotiations, and what we need to be prepared for over the summer and next year.

In struggle,
Hunter Teaches
*Hunter Teaches is an independent organization of adjuncts at Hunter College and beyond.  We are not union representatives or employees and we act autonomously from the PSC and any other PSC caucus or campus organization.

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