A serious crisis has broken out in the Professional Staff Congress over the adjunct overload waivers that permit some adjuncts to work more than the stipulated limit of nine classroom hours at one CUNY campus and a single six-hour course at another. Pointing to a large increase in the number of waivers, the PSC leadership decided – without consulting the union’s own Part-Timers’ Committee, let alone the ranks of those affected – to clamp down on waivers, without providing any alternative to those who depend on them for a significant part of their income. Sharp disagreements over this issue dominated the union’s March 16 Delegate Assembly.

What is at work here are the brutal contradictions of the two-tier (in reality, multi-tier) labor system. While saying it opposes this system, the union leadership has repeatedly negotiated contracts that widen the gap. As contingent faculty – the majority of the workforce – are left further and further behind, management has had an ever greater incentive to expand its use of grossly underpaid labor deprived of most benefits and any job security.

It does not help the union to callously tell those already on the bottom to take the lumps, grit their teeth and somehow find a way to get by. Nor can those who are barely getting by with waivers just find other jobs, especially in the present economic crisis. As a means to limit CUNY’s growing reliance on “part-time” labor, the “9/6” rule has proven ineffective, and CUNY management’s response to rigid enforcement of this rule will simply be to hire a larger number of (new, lower-paid) adjuncts.

Rightly insisting that the union must “first do no harm” to its own members, adjunct activists have called on the PSC leadership to declare a moratorium on its crackdown against waivers, and have made a series of specific proposals to ameliorate the situation. The CCU supports the call for a halt to the leadership’s crackdown on adjunct waivers. Fundamental labor solidarity requires that no union member have his or her income cut. Only by addressing the root of the problem – the growing gap between full-time and contingent labor – will it be possible to cut against the divisive logic of the two-tier system.

The waiver crisis highlights the urgency of our demand that next union contract substantially narrow the gap in pay, benefits and conditions. Instead of cutting the income of adjuncts whose waivers made it possible to cobble together the bare semblance of a living, the pay of all adjuncts must be raised – by at least $30 per credit hour, with the equivalent for graduate fellows and other contingent titles, and step raises every year. There must be minimum three-year contracts for adjuncts, with documented reasons (and notification of the union) for non-reappointment, as well as a system of seniority.

We link this to our long-standing call for a CUNY-wide reduction in class sizes, reduction of full-timers’ workload, and other measures to improve the situation of all those who work and study at CUNY. Moreover, as the waiver crisis shows, genuine union democracy is crucial for us all; union members affected by any significant change must be a real part of the decision-making process.

Only a real struggle against inequality can provide a basis for overcoming dangerous divisions within the union and uniting full-time and contingent workers. The waiver crisis highlights the urgency of undertaking this struggle now, not in some rhetorical future. It is a dramatic example of why we formed CUNY Contingents Unite as a “functional entity” to give voice to those on the bottom of the CUNY labor system, working within the PSC but autonomous from its bureaucratic structures. We invite all those committed to a real fight against the two-tier system to join and help build the CCU.

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