Red Fish, Blue Fish, New Caucus CUNY-PSC, Old Caucus CUNY-PSC

Adjuncts at CUNY are getting the short end of the stick in the currently proposed contract, and Steve London and Barbara Bowen are acting like CUNY-PSC Old Caucus party hacks. Life is always interesting in the Big Apple.

Steve London is the First Vice President of CUNY-PSC union, AFT Local 2334, a member of the so-called “New Caucus.” Barbara Bowen is the president. New Caucus candidates overthrew the “Old Caucus” in 2000, partially because the oldsters weren’t paying particularly close attention to the needs of CUNY’s part-time faculty. Life, however, is often stranger than fiction. As a result, the current stand-off between adjuncts at CUNY and their union leaders is stranger than, well, you decide.

The union at CUNY represents 8,000 part-timers, about 5,000 of whom are “active” in any given semester. The union represents just over 8,000 full-time faculty, and 3,798 agency fee payers. Agency fee payers pay dues, but may not vote on certain union matters. Interestingly, in the CUNY-PSC, the membership category that has grown the fastest since 2004 is that “agency fee” category. In four years, more than 1,000 CUNY faculty members have become agency fee payers.

Well, as is wont to happen in unified locals, the New Caucus leaders negotiated a new contract for the union’s members that, yes, called for “Across-the-board salary increases.” Then, they cleverly gave members some examples. I don’t know whether they did this out of sheer hubris, or because they thought most adjuncts are too busy to actually read union summaries. Right there, bold as brass, are these examples of how the negotiated salary increase would impact member pay:

A Professor or Higher Education Officer on the top step of the salary schedule will see her salary go from $102,235 on 9/19/07 to $116,364 on 10/20/09, a 13.8% increase.

An Adjunct Lecturer on the top step will receive a 16.7% increase in his hourly rate of pay over the life of the contract, from $69.17 per contact teaching hour to $80.70 per hour, an increase of over $500 per 3-credit course.

Um….$14,000 is more than $500, right?

Turns out I am not the only one able to do basic math. Some adjuncts at CUNY got peeved, went to union leaders and expressed concern that the negotiated raise wasn’t equitable. Union leaders responded by blaming CUNY administrators—always a clever ploy by people paid to bargain contracts. Here’s where it gets interesting.

CUNY-PSC adjuncts unhappy with the contract—critics of the union’s proposed contract— wanted to send out an email to CUNY-PSC members expressing their views. The New Caucus leadership turned them down cold. This is particularly ironic given the fact that in the “Contract Summary” prepared for members, the union won the right to use college e-mail for union communication. “Effective upon ratification of this Agreement, the PSC will be permitted to use all college electronic mail facilities for union communication – in addition to the existing right to use college mailroom facilities.” So, the New Caucus gets to use CUNY email resources, but union members were denied the right to use their own union’s email resources.

First Vice President Steve London was quoted as saying that, “…he agreed that adjuncts deserve more than they’ll get in this contract. He [London] said that the union is not trying to prevent anyone from communicating with anyone — but is just not allowing ‘union resources’ to be involved. ‘Those who want the membership to vote [against the contract], they can express their views,’ he said.” Union resources? The union resources are funded with union dues. In fact, in 2007, union dues paid Steven London a tidy $41,324 from CUNY-PSC and NYSUT for his work, on top of his union negotiated minimum salary ($56,713-$84,902) as an Associate Professor at Brooklyn College.

As for CUNY-PSC president Barbara Bowen, she chose to sit in a corner with her fingers in her ears and sing “la,la,la,la.” In her letter to members, she writes, “One reason for the high level of support the proposed contract has received is that it delivers gains in almost every area prioritized by the union for this round of bargaining.” This is the kicker. Bowen writes to the membership (including the members who were told to take a long walk off the Brooklyn Bridge when they asked to use the union’s email resources to communicate with fellow members): “One of the most important gains of this contract is non-economic: the union won the right to the use of all college e-mail facilities for union communication.  If you remember that this year one college tried to ban union activists from using college e-mail for union messages, you will understand why this change matters.”

So, if you are a union “activist,” within the CUNY system the union leadership deems it very important you should be able to use college email for union messages. On the other hand, if you are union activist within the union, Barbara Bowen and Steven London believe letting members communicate with each other using “union resources” is a bad idea.

CUNY’s part-time faculty members have until September 2nd to vote on the proposed contract. Let’s hope a majority of the part-time members who vote send a clear message to Barbara Bowen and Steven London that the concept of the “across-the-board” pay raise is totally unacceptable. While they’re at it, they might also send the clear message that trying to squelch debate and dissent among members over a hideously lop-sided contract is also totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new at CUNY-PSC, as members who remember the Old Caucus leadership will tell you.

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