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Vol. 34, No.1 May 18, 2006
GOLDSTEIN AND BOWEN HAVE TAKEN A CONTRACT OUT ON US!
Within a day or two, readers of The Patriot Returns will be receiving a number of (un)welcome gifts in their mailboxes from the American Arbitration Association: a contract ratification ballot; a copy of the memorandum of agreement signed by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and President Barbara Bowen; a copy of a "side agreement" creating new lecturer lines; and the PSC's summary of the offer's provisions. Both the university and the union are urging the membership to endorse the contract, and their spinmeisters at 80th and West 43rd Streets are doing their best to convince us that this is the best deal available.
Here at The Patriot Returns, we emphatically disagree. With all due respect to Matt and Barbara, CUNY's new Odd Couple are doing a convoluted cha-cha around some embarrassing matters of fact. Despite the Panglossian pronouncements, the distressing details include:
A MASSIVE PAY CUT!!
The salary increase offered over the life of the contract is 8.25% (8.48% compounded), plus an $800 rate increase for full timers or 1% (uncompounded) for adjuncts and continuing education treachers on the last day of the contract. According to the PSC's patented fuzzy math, these translate, on the average to a 9.5% raise. Not great, but not peanuts either, the Odd Couple tells us.
Neither Matt nor Barbara mention inflation, of course; nor do they emphasize the length on the agreement. Yet the cost of living in the New York area has increased some 14.1% since the last contract expired in October 2002. Therefore anything less than a 14.1% raise for the last 42 months amounts to a pay cut. Presuming that the contract is ratified in June, the moment that it goes into effect, our salaries will be cut by at least 4.6% And, if like us, you put little faith in Barbara's serial prevarications, the real cut will be closer to 5.6%. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who has condemned "austerity" agreements lo these many years.
But there's more (or less). The new contract will be in effect until September 19, 2007---some sixteen months from now. Matt and Barbara seem to presume that Consumer Price Index will be put on hold for that period. Do you? Neither surging energy costs nor soaring NYC rents are within their purview. Where the effective purchasing power of CUNY's faculty and staff will be late next year is uncertain. What is certain is that it will be dramatically less than it was in 2002.
A MEMBERSHIP-FUNDED WELFARE FUND!!!
Of all the issues on the bargaining table, how to stop the hemorrhaging at the Welfare Fund proved to be the most vexing. The proposed contract includes additional annual infusions of $2.2 million to the Welfare Fund from 80th Street, plus a per capita increase of $200 over the contract's 58 2/3 months. Exactly how long it will take "Solidarity Steve," "Luau Larry" and their friends at MEDCO to spend down this money remains to be seen.
The agreement also includes a one-time cash payment of "approximately $30 million" to the WF to shore up what Matt rather diplomatically refers to as its "depleted reserves." A less-than-careful reader of CUNY e-News or The Clarion might get the mistaken impression that this money is also coming out of the public coffers. But it is not: it will be coming out of our paychecks and pockets.
The $30 million cited is the amount of retroactive pay that we will be forced to kick back to the Welfare Fund. The only salary increase that we would see for year one of the contract (2002-2003) would be $800, not on base. All of it goes directly to the WF. In the second year of the contract (2003-2004) a 2.5% increase on base is scheduled. But you'll only see a .5% raise in the form of retroactive pay. The 2% goes to the Welfare Fund.
Matt and Barbara's slight-of-hand here is quite impressive. They are forcing us to pay for the university's unwillingness to provide a decent benefits package, and for the union's inability to exercise its fiduciary responsibility in overseeing the Welfare Fund. This legerdemain is also very dangerous. The Odd Couple has set a precedent for all future contracts. While in her militant fantasies, Barbara may imagine that she'll win back all that has been given away, Matt knows better. From now on the Welfare Fund will be funded by the membership. If we want better dental and medical benefits, or restored life insurance, we can bloody well pay for them. Score 30 million points to 80th Street's tenacious negotiators!
AN OFF-SIDE DEAL?
While Matt and Barbara continue to sing the praises of CUNY's academic proletariat, the adjunct faculty, the contract offers little in the way of substance to the part-timers. As noted above, they'll get a whopping 1% uncompounded increase on September 19th, 2007. In the meantime, those having trouble paying their rent or for prescription drugs can request a letter of good intent co-signed by the Chancellor and the President. The university will also "make efforts" to provide adjuncts with e-mail and voice-mail accounts, and "where feasible" to list them in department directories. Why the latter appears to be a Herculean task is beyond us.
In addition to the princely-sum of a pay raise and the professional perks, the university and the union have reached a "side agreement" regarding the creation of 100 new lecturer lines. But here the Odd Couple are not reading from the same script.
As explained by Matt in his e-message to the CUNY community:
In furtherance of its goal of increasing the percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty, the University will create 100 full-time lecturer lines that will be open for application to adjunct faculty who meet specified eligibility requirements. This commitment is not part of the collective bargaining agreement.
But in her e-message on the contract settlement, Barbara described the 100 new lines quite differently:
Attached to this message is a list of the additional elements of the settlement... Two elements deserve special mention. One is a breakthrough that creates 100 new full-time lecturer positions for which only experienced CUNY adjuncts will be eligible to apply... the new lines mark the first time CUNY will move in the direction of converting part-time positions to full-time, instead of the other way around. Nationally, this will make our contract one of the few in higher education that creates new full-time positions...
So, while Matt is telling us that this provision is not part of the collective bargaining agreement, Barbara tells us that it is. A matter of emphasis, perhaps? And what about access to these new lines? Matt notes that eligible adjunct faculty can apply for them; is he announcing that applications from other qualified will not be considered? Barbara, too, seems to suggest that these 100 lines will be reserved for experienced adjuncts. But will they? In any event, 100 new full-time positions hardly meet the needs of the over 4,000 part-timers across the CUNY system. What the Odd Couple is not telling them is that, once again, the university and the union are giving them the precious little but praise. At CUNY, talk appears to be very, very cheap.
TELL THE ODD COUPLE "HELL, NO!"
After putting up with years of Barbara's krazy kontract campaign, and listening politely to the Chancellor's evocations of better times a-comin', we at The Patriot Returns are appalled by the proposal now before us. We intend on voting "no," and we recommend that our readers do the same. By rejecting this insulting offer, the membership would be sending an unequivocal message to the Odd Couple. Go back to the bargaining table! Matt, put your money where your mouth has been: go to City Hall and Albany , and get us a deal that is at least as good as that of our colleagues at SUNY. Barbara: put up or shut up. If you can't do better than a pay cut, at least insist on non-binding arbitration. The UFT did, and won a 15% increase. And if arbitration is unsatisfactory, pull the trigger and take a strike vote. Randi Weingarten did, as did your heroine Belle Zeller. What's the matter with you?
The ratification ballots mailed on May 15th are due back at the AAA by the morning of June 2nd. In the intervening weeks, the PSC promises to hold more "informational meetings" on the campuses to answer questions about the contract. We suggest that those of you able to attend bring tape recorders so that the union's spinmeisters can be put on the record. We also urge the membership to ask chapter chairs and the newly chosen members of the Executive Council if and why they are endorsing this raw deal. Remember their replies when they are up for re-election!
Remember, as well, that both Matt and Barbara want this deal signed, sealed and delivered. The Chancellor can then move forward with his various plans for centralizing and revitalizing CUNY. Barbara can return to her revolutionary reveries, and go back to the barricades at NYU. But before this Odd Couple finish up their last tango on 43rd Street, let's try to make them keep at least some of their promises. From The Patriot's perspective, the price of ratification would be far too much. After all, we deserve to have a decent contract presented to us, not a duplicitous contract taken out on us.
Sharad Karkhanis, Ph.D.