By Patrick Donachie
City University of New York staff and faculty union members overwhelmingly voted this week to authorize a strike in case contract negotiations fail to reach an agreement over pay raises.
More than 10,000 members of the Professional Staff Congress participated in the vote, which ran from May 2 to May 11. It was the first strike authorization vote that the union had approved since 1973.
The vote was approved with 92 percent of participants voting in favor of the authorization. PSC president Barbara Bowen said that the CUNY administration’s unwillingness to offer a substantive raise endangered the quality of the schools.
“The union hopes to build on the growing public and legislative support for funding our contract, and we will do our utmost to reach an agreement through negotiations, without a strike,” she said. “But after six years without a raise, many of us are struggling to keep up with the cost of living for ourselves and alarmed at the threat to academic quality at CUNY.”
The PSC represents more than 25,000 CUNY employees and conducted the strike authorization vote by phone, mail or online. Prior to the close of the voting period, more than 5,000 members of the PSC publicly pledged to vote yes.
The vote to authorize a strike does not make a strike inevitable, but gives union leadership leverage during upcoming contract negotiations. In a letter to union members from April 18, Bowen stressed that a strike would not be called at any point during the current academic year or during the summer. The earliest the strike would come, she wrote, would be in the fall of 2016.
CUNY faculty have been working without a contract since 2010, and the faculty’s last raise was in October 2009. In November 2015 CUNY Chancellor James Milliken proposed a retroactive 6 percent pay increase during the six-year gap, which Bowen argued would for all intents and purposes amount to a salary cut because the increase in pay would not keep pace with the rate of inflation.
“A failure even to keep up with inflation—in the absence of other major improvements—will make CUNY increasingly non-competitive in attracting and keeping the faculty and staff the university needs,” Bowen wrote.
The final budget presented by Gov. Andrew Cuomo March 31 did not include any funding specifically allocated toward underwriting pay raises for CUNY faculty, though state Budget Director Robert Mujica pledged that once the mediation between faculty and the university system was completed, they would be able to address the need for funding.
The PSC is a local for the American Federation of Teachers, according to the union’s site.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona