Adjuncts Dissatisfied With PSC-CUNY Contract

President Barbara Bowen at Hunter College speaking on the proposed PSC-CUNY contract. Photo by Henry Fernberger

Adjuncts voiced their complaints about the new proposed contract when PSC President Barbara Bowen met with Hunter adjuncts on Oct 30. 

The City University of New York and the Professional Staff Congress faculty union released a proposed five-year contract on Oct 23 that increases the minimum adjunct pay by 71 percent.

By the contract’s final year, minimum pay for a three-credit course will reach $5,500, not the $7,000 per course the union was originally fighting for. Currently, minimum pay for adjunct lecturers is $3,222 per course which campaign group $7K or Strike refers to as poverty wages. 

$7K or Strike operates independently from the PSC union and includes faculty, students, and staff at CUNY. Their campaign demands that adjunct faculty, who teach over half of the courses at CUNY, make a minimum of $7,000 per course, what they consider a livable income in New York City.

If the contract passes, the minimum salary will go up to $4,400 per course starting next semester. In addition, the adjunct will be paid at an hourly rate for official office hours. As of now, adjuncts are not compensated for the numerous hours they spend on lessons, research, grading and meeting with students.

Bowen called the contract “historic” and relayed that the PSC team is proud of their result which took two years and sees this contract as a win for faculty, students and staff. However, she explained their struggle saying, “I think staying at the bargaining table would not have produced $7,000.” 

That’s not enough for Hunter’s Integrated Media Arts adjunct Veronique Bernard, who was unhappy by Bowen’s speech. “This was the opportunity to raise the poverty wages for adjuncts,” she said. “The CUNY management is spinning the narrative in the media and as far as they’re concerned the adjunct issue is solved. I’m worried that if we accept this contract, that’s it for us adjuncts,” said Bernard.

Bernard isn’t alone. Many adjuncts raised questions and shared their opinions including sociology adjunct Erin Ward. “I am really disheartened by the [PSC] framing this as a historic win for adjuncts,” she says. “It’s a huge increase from very very little. $5,500 in 2022 is very little… and it doesn’t keep pace with inflation in New York,” Ward said at the meeting.

Bowen responded saying “It’s not enough. But we have to recognize what resistance we overcame and where we started from.” Although the goal of $7,000 per course wasn’t accomplished, Bowen says it is the biggest increase for the largest number of adjuncts in any contract nationwide.

The PSC Delegate Assembly will vote on the proposed contract on Nov 7 on whether to recommend it for ratification before the union’s 33,000 members can vote on it. 

The $7K or Strike campaign urges union members to vote no to the proposal. One pamphlet distributed at the Hunter Faculty Delegate Assembly meeting said, “When we said $7K or Strike, we meant it!”

Immediately after the release of the contract, the group has voiced their disapproval on social media through their #votenopsc campaign by highlighting members against it. A strike isn’t far-fetched. Votes in favor of a strike authorization were nearly unanimously passed early October at four college campuses. Union chapters are pushing for more at other campuses, including John Jay School of Criminal Justice next week. 

$7K or Strike’s #votenopsc Campaign.

“I feel disappointed by Bowen’s response that $5,500 is a victory because in three years from now that’s not enough,” said Reiko Tahara, an Integrated Media Arts adjunct.

Tahara, a member of $7K or Strike said, “I don’t feel represented by the leadership. Who are they deciding what’s enough for us?”

The agreement increases the salary by more than 10 percent by 2022 through yearly raises of 2 percent for about 12,000 adjuncts and 3,000 full-time employees. Although the contract decreases the salary gap between adjuncts who teach full-time and full-time professors, it doesn’t include job protection amidst CUNY budget cuts. 

This change means a 33 percent salary increase from paid office hours which entails an increase in CUNY’S budget by New York City and New York State Government. Referring to the contract as impressive, Bowen said they “have committed additional money to …cover the tens of millions of dollars” office hours would cost, but is unsure where that money will come from. 

$7K or Strike is concerned “there is no money in the budget to find [the] salary increases, so they would be extracted at a high price from students, adjuncts, and other workers at CUNY,” according to their site. They’re referring to the threat of course cancellations, crammed classes, heavier workloads and increase in tuition for students. 

“It took relentless and unified pressure,” Bowen said, alluding to the years jam-packed with marches, protests, rallies at Albany, logging of adjunct hours and support from the union.

If the contract doesn’t pass, Bowen said that PSC will have to start negotiating from scratch and it will be a long struggle for the union. If that happens, she said, “I will go back to the bargaining table. I will fight like hell.” 

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