APRIL 2012 ELECTIONS

WHAT WE STAND FOR

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What We Stand For 

The New Caucus was formed in 1995 when hundreds of faculty and professional staff from across the University came together to dedicate our political lives to the project of making CUNY the great public university it could be. It was a time of financial crisis that had rapidly degraded our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions. CUNY had never fully recovered from the New York City fiscal crisis in 1975, when thousands of faculty positions had been lost; twenty years later, conditions at CUNY had reached a low point. 

What united us was the belief that CUNY was worth fighting for and that conditions could be changed if the union became a leader in that fight. We refused to accept the premise that CUNY will always be poor, that second-class conditions are good enough for our students – or for us. 

We also understood that the union would be effective in the fight for change only if it became more than a narrowly defined service organization. Attempting to address members’ individual needs while leaving the underlying conditions untouched was a failed strategy. To make real change, the PSC would have to become a serious political force rooted in an active membership. 

That is what the union has become. After taking office in 2000, the New Caucus leadership of the PSC has established itself as a power at the bargaining table, on the campuses, in City Hall, in Albany and even in national policy debates. Under our leadership, the erosion in conditions at CUNY has stopped, salaries have risen, health benefits have been preserved and expanded, support for research has increased, adjunct conditions have improved, and the free-fall in CUNY funding has been ended. 

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Social Unionism is More Effective for Members 

The New Caucus approach is known as “social unionism.” The union builds the necessary power to serve members, and as it becomes politically powerful, it promotes a progressive political agenda, fosters solidarity with other unions, builds and works within progressive coalitions, and contributes to the development of progressive mass movements. As the PSC has implemented this strategy of building collective power, the union has also become stronger in defending individual members’ salaries, benefits and rights. The union is more powerful on bread-and-butter issues when it embraces a bolder vision.

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A Record of Success 

The New Caucus is proud of our record, a few highlights of which we offer here. What we are proudest of is that our power derives from involving thousands of CUNY faculty and staff in this work. The accomplishments are ours together. 

1. Under New Caucus leadership, the union has successfully bargained three contracts through two major economic downturns. When we took office in 2000, CUNY had sabbaticals at 50% pay, no junior faculty research leave, no paid parental leave, no professional development grants for staff or adjuncts, no paid office hours for adjuncts, salaries that lagged far below national norms, and a Welfare Fund on shaky financial ground. Today all of that has changed. We have much still to do on salaries, teaching load and other issues, but we have shown that unleashing the power of the membership is the way to win contract battles. Even in tough economic times, we are determined to make progress, and we have a track record that shows it is possible. We have worked with CUNY management when we share goals, but we have also drawn a line in the sand when our members’ interests are at stake. 

2. Under New Caucus leadership, informal talks with management have produced breakthroughs for our membership – even as we continue to negotiate a new contract. The victories occurred despite a larger political environment that demands labor givebacks. We secured a management commitment to include part-time faculty health insurance in CUNY’s budget proposal because of the pressure of our organizing campaign. The G overnor’s budget reflects that commitment. In addition, paid parental leave was recently made a permanent entitlement of faculty and professional staff, transitioning from a pilot program. PSCCUNY Research Grants have been reformed and their funds increased by nearly $1 million over a three-year period. Talks on other issues, such as the creation of a sick-leave bank, continue, and continue to be fruitful. 

3. Under New Caucus leadership, the union has worked with coalitions of labor, community groups and students to resist economic austerity for the public sector. In the spring of 2011, the PSC rallied in Albany with other coalition members to demand that the “millionaires’ tax” be continued. Together, we were successful in forcing the Governor to sustain a large part of the tax on New York’s highest earners, a move that substantially reduced the State’s projected deficit. With that deficit reduction, new funds for CUNY and other important services became available. Critically, PSC representatives sit on the decision- making bodies of coalition partners, helping to shape organizing direction and public campaigns. 

4. Under New Caucus leadership, the union has expanded its political apparatus and influence, winning increased funds for CUNY. The PSC has built its legislative presence in New York City and Albany by establishing member-based borough coordinators and teams. Using “inside” strategies of face-to-face advocacy combined with “outside” strategies of mass demonstrations and civil disobedience, we have built power and pressure. The PSC also works closely with the legislative leaders of NYSUT, the Working Families Party and other New York unions. Political leaders across the state call upon the expertise of New Caucus- PSC leadership when deliberating about initiatives such as increased funding for community colleges, part-time faculty health insurance, pension reform, or workplace bullying. 

5. Under New Caucus leadership, the union won 80% pay for sabbaticals, and 24 contact hours of reassigned time for junior faculty. We came into office determined to break the grip of the idea that support for research was a luxury, unthinkable at CUNY. In 2004, New Caucus leadership of the PSC organized mass membership support for our contract campaign, and won sabbatical pay at 80%. Mobilizing the pressure of the membership, we made a similar breakthrough for junior faculty. Untenured faculty at every CUNY college are now entitled to the equivalent of a year, on average, of full-paid released time for research before the tenure decision. 

6. Under New Caucus leadership, the union made significant gains for adjuncts, other part-timers and graduate employees. The New Caucus was founded on the recognition that the labor system in higher education must be changed, and we have worked consistently to bring parity to part-time and hourly faculty and professional staff. The battle is far from over, but drawing on adjunct and graduate employee leadership within the union, the PSC under our leadership has made significant inroads against this system. On health care, we have waged unprecedented campaigns to fund adjunct health insurance and are on course to secure funding for this benefit. We also negotiated health insurance for graduate employees. And we won paid office hours and professional development funds for adjuncts, as well as paid sick leave and other improvements for Continuing Education faculty. 

7. Under New Caucus leadership, the union defended the 35-hour workweek for HEO s and won rights to overtime pay and compensatory time. For 40 years CUNY had been routinely violating the contract on the workweek for employees in the Higher Education Officer series. Under New Caucus leadership, the PSC challenged this practice, carefully developing both a grievance and a lawsuit. The key was making an individual issue collective – breaking through years of silence by organizing. That’s a hallmark of PSC strategy under the New Caucus: combining meticulous contract enforcement work with bold, energetic organizing. And the results can be transformative. Thousands of professional staff across the University are now entitled to compensation for work assigned beyond the contractual limit, and a pattern devaluing HEO work has been changed. 

8. Under New Caucus leadership, the union has defended academic freedom, freedom of speech, and faculty governance rights. An academic union has a special responsibility for maintaining the academic character of the University. New Caucus-PSC leaders have a strong record of taking a stand against CUNY management’s infringement on these freedoms. Currently, we are fighting management’s attempt to impose “Pathways,” completely disregarding faculty governance and the academic freedom of the faculty to control curricular decisions. We have fought and won when management pulled an adjunct from a course because of its content. And when CUNY management tried to deny chapter leaders access to campus e-mail for union communications, we prevailed. 

9. Under New Caucus leadership, the union restored the finances of the Welfare Fund, enhanced retiree benefits, and refused to sell out adjuncts or retirees. Welfare Fund trustees put into place a new Medicare Part D program that ends the $50 deductible and lifts the $10,000 per person annual prescription drug cap. This major advance was made possible because New Caucus leadership fought back against CUNY’s historic failure to provide adequate support for the Welfare Fund. New Caucus leaders took an unpopular stand to use retroactive pay to provide adequate funds for retiree and adjunct benefits in the 2002-07 contract. We refused to compromise on the principle of equal rights to benefits, and we insisted on maintaining adjunct health insurance. Without taking that stand, we would not now be positioned to take advantage of the new provisions of Medicare Part D of the Affordable Health Care Act and be closer to permanently fixing adjunct health insurance. 

10. Under New Caucus leadership, the union is a national force for educational justice and a leader in progressive positions for labor. We were an early and strong supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement and we continue to provide material and political support. Questions of fairness for ourselves and our students are inseparable from the larger policy choices that create the conditions in which we work. Under New Caucus leadership, the PSC has gained a national reputation for leadership on issues of educational justice, academic labor policy, antiracism, and opposition to wasteful and unjust wars. We were leaders in the coalition that succeeded in changing the law on access to CUNY and SUNY for undocumented students. We were among the first unions nationally to demand an end to the war in Iraq and were instrumental in shifting the position of our national union. Locally, we are strong partners in coalitions to support quality education and deep believers in solidarity with other unions.

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Why We are Running for Re-Election 

What motivated us in 1995 to found the New Caucus continues to define us today: to see our members realize their professional aspirations and see CUNY be the university it could be. Our work, however, is not finished. CUNY, like all things public, is imperiled. Mainstream politicians continue to develop austerity budgets that starve CUNY and deny the University the essential elements of a quality education: small classes, a cohort of full-time faculty that keeps pace with the expansion of the student body, proper compensation and adequate time for faculty to teach and do research, parttime faculty afforded a livable wage, and fair, supportive conditions for professional staff. These are but a few of the critical ingredients necessary to guarantee that all CUNY students receive the instruction and support they deserve. The New Caucus has shown that we have the strategy and the vision to make progress for members and for CUNY even during tough times. And we are prepared to work as hard as it takes in the next three years to stand up for you, for your professional aspirations and for your vision of what the University could be. We ask you not just to vote for us, but to join us. Show your support by voting in the election – and voting New Caucus.

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