Adjunct Pay Falls Short of 7K or Strike Demands
After several years of protests, debates, and contract negotiations, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and CUNY announced an “historic” contract deal on Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Supporters of the deal and union higher-ups have praised the deal for giving raises to both adjunct and full-time professors across the CUNY system. However, while some are proud of a contract that they say prioritizes the most exploited within the PSC’s ranks, supporters of the “7K or Strike” campaign say that the new contract does not go nearly far enough.
“I’m unfortunately not surprised,” said Tom Watters, an adjunct in the English department who has organized with 7K or Strike for a year and a half. “This contract was concluded out of desperation. They don’t feel like they have built the power to make any serious changes.”
He, and other members of the movement have already condemned the contract, calling for PSC delegates to vote no when the contract goes before the delegate assembly on Thursday, Nov. 7.
The key gain in the contract, also known as the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is an overall 2% yearly salary increase for both adjuncts and full-time professors. These raises would result in a new minimum pay of $5,500 per class for an adjunct lecturer by the contract’s end in November of 2022. This is far below the $7,000-per-class figure which the 7K or Strike movement has rallied behind. They say that by 2022, they’d be making $33,000 a year – almost two thousand dollars below New York City’s poverty line – and that the 2% increases are barely enough to keep up with inflation.
“$5,500 is not a living wage,” Watters said.
“I said $7K and I meant it,” said Watters’ fellow English department adjunct Zach LaMalfa.
Still, James Davis, the Brooklyn College PSC chapter chair, says that the raise will mostly benefit adjuncts. According to him, the lowest-paid adjuncts will see an immediate raise of nearly 40% come spring.
“I don’t know anyone at the bargaining table who wasn’t fierce in advocating for adjunct equity,” Davis said. He would know – he was one of the 18 PSC delegates on the bargaining team that hashed out the contract with CUNY management.
“I understand $5,500 is not $7,000,” said Meg Feeley. In addition to serving on the bargaining team, she herself is an adjunct who’s worked at Kingsborough Community College since 2002. “It’s not what we hoped for. In the bargaining process, one rarely gets more than or even with what one puts forth.”
Feeley says she understands those adjuncts’ frustrations, being an adjunct herself, but that the bargaining team has been hampered by the requirements.
“I think it’s important to note that our contract has to be negotiated with CUNY and that CUNY’s agreements are subject to approval by the city and the state,” Feeley explained. “We’re not just bargaining with the management as many unions do; we have to contend with TWO different authorities that have to approve of this agreement. They have to make sure it’s consistent with the funding available.”
But here, again, 7K or Strike adherents object. They claim that due to chronic underfunding of CUNY, the money isn’t there, and that their wages will be paid through tuition hikes.
“Money, unfortunately, has to come from somewhere,” LaMalfa argued. “I am concerned that the place we are making for this budget is coming out of the student’s pockets, which I really hate.”
Davis acknowledged that fear – what he characterized as a “reasonable concern” – but downplayed it nevertheless.
“The union has the assurance of both the city and the state that they will be paid for,” Davis said.
He acknowledged that there was “nothing in writing” to confirm this; however, Davis noted, he thinks CUNY’s new Chancellor, Dr. Felix Matos Rodriguez, will throw his clout around to make sure tuition doesn’t go up.
“I think the new chancellor is committed to using his political capital in City Hall to ensure that the collective bargaining costs are funded, and that student tuition doesn’t have to bear the brunt,” Davis said.
Another major point of contention within the MOA is the elimination of salary steps for adjuncts in 2022. Salary steps allow for gradual salary increases based on how many semesters they have been teaching. Adjuncts, including Watters, say that it ultimately amounts to a pay freeze for adjuncts.
“It’s a radical concession for the bargaining team,” Watters said.
Meg Feeley says that adjuncts will be better off despite the pay freeze.
“Going forward, people who are coming forward will never make more than $5,500, but the person who starts teaching in 2022 or 2023 is going to start at $5,500,” she noted. “That dramatically improves the outcomes for pensions for adjuncts. We would qualify for better pension treatment in two different ways – we would have higher pay earlier and more consistently, and we’re getting paid additional pensionable hours for the times we already work with students.”
Feeley’s referring to one of the other big gains in the contract, namely, the additional “professional hour” each adjunct will be paid for each week. But adjuncts say that even with this additional hour of pay, they’re still working even when they’re off the clock.
“I’m paid for, what, about three hours in front of a classroom and then, generously, two extra office hours? We’re being paid for a five-hour workweek,” LaMalfa explained. “But usually, off the books, I’m working an additional twenty hours a week.”
Ultimately, both the contract’s supporters and its detractors agree that adjuncts are doing work comparable to that of a full-time position, just without the pay.
“We said we would not settle unless there was real movement on adjunct pay – a demand that was going to be difficult for the state and the city,” explained Blanca Vazquez, an adjunct associate professor at Hunter who was on the bargaining team. “I think we really fought for that and I think we made some real progress for that.”
“Maybe sooner, rather than later, it’ll be more advantageous for CUNY to hire more full-timers,” she elaborated. “That’s the point of raising the wages for part-timers. Our labor is underwriting CUNY, and that’s not fair.”
The members of PSC on either side have until Nov. 7 to plead their case before the first round of voting. If the contract is voted down, the bargaining team will go back to the table; undoubtedly, with added pressure to deliver on the second go-around.
If, however, the vote results in a yes decision, it’s entirely possible there’ll be a strike.
“It is one of the only tools left in the bag,” said Watters.