CUNY Contingents Unite

The struggle over the latest contract has made it clear that contingent academic staff need stronger representation. We need a unit that brings together contingent academic workers, while continuing to participate fully in the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). We have formed CUNY Contingents Unite as a body to include adjunct faculty, graduate student employees, Continuing Education and other “part-time” academic staff at the City University of New York and as a “functional entity” within the PSC but not limited by present organizational structures. “Part-time” employees constitute more than half of the CUNY faculty and teach more than half the courses, but are denied resources, decent pay, job security and dignity, while having tenuous health care at best.

We seek to defend the rights and improve conditions for contingent academic workers together with full-time faculty, other campus workers and students. CUNY management will not budge unless faced with the determined opposition of CUNY faculty, staff and students united around a common goal of ending the two-tier academic labor system that undermines public higher education. Adjuncts, graduate students and other “part-timers” are the majority of those represented by the PSC (57% according to a recent analysis), but our voices are seldom heeded. In part, this reflects the fact that although we have distinct interests in common, we are divided into campus chapters and no common body speaks on our behalf. Moreover, even when the PSC leadership formally declares adjunct issues a priority, this is repeatedly sacrificed in the face of administration intransigence.

Functional units extending across chapter lines exist in several unions. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers is organized on the basis of school chapters, but the UFT leadership has created functional units for some job categories with special interests that can only be addressed system-wide. These units meet periodically to address their issues. The difference in the PSC is that contingent academic staff are the majority, and the initiative to form a unit representing our needs comes from us. CUNY Contingents Unite will seek to bring contingent academic staff together as a functional unit within the PSC, while including those who have not (yet) joined the union which represents the workforce. A close relation with CUNY’s students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, is crucial to our work and perspectives.

Various organizational forms have been tried in organizing contingent academic labor, including graduate student unions and separate unions of adjuncts and teaching assistants. In some places, notable gains have been made. Some universities pay more than double the rate per course paid by CUNY and some have secured seniority rights and job protection for contingent faculty. In California, there is a legislative initiative to eliminate the two-tier academic labor system. However, these gains need to be much more widespread. The courts have not been favorable to graduate student unionization, and in New York City strikes by graduate student staff at Columbia University and New York University have been broken by hard-line administrations because they were not backed by other faculty and campus workers, even in different locals of the same union. It is our conviction that all faculty, full- and part-time, must stand together to build a strong PSC, in conjunction with other campus worker unions and the students, in order to defeat the Taylor Law and other weapons used against labor, defend public higher education and eliminate the two-tier academic labor system. In opposing the two-tier academic labor system, attention must be given to promoting sectors traditionally subjected to discrimination and exclusion, notably women and minorities.

Representing 22,000 academic and administrative employees in the largest urban public university in the United States (with approximately 235,00 students enrolled in degree programs, and over 200,000 in a variety of Continuing, Adult and Professional Ed Programs), we have the potential to mobilize real power if we unite with the organized workers movement and all working people, immigrants and minorities who together make up the vast majority in this city.

 In the recent struggle over the contract, we brought unprecedented attention to the deepening inequality of CUNY’s labor system, while raising important issues of union democracy. The effect has been to energize adjuncts, graduate students and others to fight for equality and dignity. The struggle has in fact only begun. Among our key tasks will be developing a basic program, actions and initiatives aimed at winning gains for contingent employees in the areas of job security, pay equity, health care, and working conditions. CUNY Contingents Unite will be a vehicle to mobilize large numbers of contingent academic workers, to strengthen our voice and to work with full-time faculty and staff toward eliminating the two-tier academic labor system.

[Adopted 12 Sept. 2008. This document will be open to further development in line with the work, tasks and growth of the CCU.]