Strike Authorization Campaign: Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: Our union leadership says they are finalizing the contract now. Shouldn’t we wait and see what they come up with?

A: While we don’t know what’s in the contract, we do know that there is no money in the budget to fund it, so any gains it includes will be extracted at a high price from students, adjuncts, and other workers at CUNY. Fighting over crumbs harms all students and workers, and higher education in general. We won’t win anything better by waiting.

Q:  Last time when we approved an unfunded contract, the state legislature followed up with a special “pay bill” to cover the cost. Won’t that happen again?

A: We cannot assume that a pay bill will be passed. There has been no indication from union leadership or from elected officials that a pay bill will be forthcoming. Even if it does happen, it’s doubtful that such a bill would provide enough funding to cover the contract costs.

Q: If the contract gives us what we need, why should we care if there’s money in the budget?

A: As happened with the unfunded course release that full-time faculty won in the last PSC contract, economic gains that come without public funding deepen CUNY’s budget crisis, disproportionately hurting the next generation of students and workers. We are seeing this now: course cancellations, over-tallied classes, reduced student services and resources, heavier workloads, and the threatened termination of entire academic programs. A contract that tacitly accepts these conditions and imposes tuition hikes on hungry and housing-insecure students is not the contract we want.

Q: Does the state really have enough money to fully fund CUNY?

A: There is plenty of money in New York. What is lacking is the political will to impose a tax on wealth that can cover the full costs of public education at all levels. By building a strong strike campaign and rallying broad support from New Yorkers, we can create that political will.

Q: Isn’t it illegal to strike? How can we call for a strike authorization campaign?

A: The Taylor Law makes it illegal for New York public employees to strike. Yet the PSC carried out a strike authorization campaign for the last contract—and held a strike authorization vote—without incurring any Taylor Law penalties. At minimum we can expect to do that much again without any negative consequences, especially under today’s more favorable state legislative environment.

Q: Isn’t everything different after the June 2018 Supreme Court ruling Janus v. AFSCME?

A: The Janus ruling, while it weakens organized labor overall, has also forced public sector unions to reach out more actively to recruit members. The PSC has done a decent job with this and has not lost members in the year since Janus. A strike could further strengthen us by mobilizing and energizing the rank and file. PSC leaders are fearful that a strike could lead to the union losing dues checkoff—the right to make CUNY deduct membership dues from our pay and transfer them to the union. In the past, this might have meant tracking down union members one by one to collect dues. Members could easily sign up for a monthly bill-pay system that will deduct union dues directly from their accounts. (There’s a clause in our strike plan about this.)

Q: Don’t we have to fight the Taylor Law first before we can strike?

A strong campaign will take the Taylor Law seriously and work actively to overturn the strike ban as we organize to strike. Defying the ban is the most effective way to challenge it. By building enough power to win a strike, we can free ourselves and all New York public sector workers from this profoundly anti-democratic law and restore our fundamental right to withhold our labor.

Q: Shouldn’t we use other tactics before we strike?

An effective strike authorization campaign will incorporate many escalating tactics to ensure that we are building rank-and-file power. We can doggedly pester CUNY trustees and elected officials at their homes and social events; carry out short-term work actions that are hard for the bureaucracy to track and penalize; turn out large numbers of members and students to meetings with campus presidents to force them to fight to fund CUNY; and disrupt alumni and graduation events, just to name a few options. These kinds of creative actions are integral to a successful strike campaign. If we take striking out of the action toolbox, we limit our own power.

Q: What if PSC members are not ready to strike?

A: The whole point of a strike authorization campaign is to educate, organize, and mobilize the membership in a collective fight to win collective gains. As part of the campaign, organizers must explain to members all the reasons for striking, and the risks involved, and ensure that the rank and file is involved at every level. It is important to engage all members, particularly our most vulnerable, and to field every concern and prepare accordingly. We have already begun having one-on-one conversations with members about these issues, and we want the union to put its energy and resources into that work.

Q: How can you ask adjuncts to strike and risk losing pay when we are already so poor?

A: Adjuncts can’t afford NOT to strike. We are barely surviving as it is. The current budget crisis threatens our jobs and expands our workloads. A strike campaign must take care to protect the union’s most vulnerable members. As happened during the last strike authorization campaign, we can ask department chairs who make reappointment decisions (and who are themselves PSC members) to pledge that no one will face retaliation for striking. We can refuse to settle the strike until we win protections for adjuncts. We will set up a strike fund and reach out to other unions and the broader community for solidarity. In the age of social media, our courage in standing up for ourselves and our students will inspire many around the world to support us.

Q: Won’t we hurt our students by striking?

A: We can only win a strike if the students are on our side. Outreach to students and support for student organizing is a key component of a successful strike authorization campaign. Students are hurt by slashed services and tuition hikes, and they will benefit when we win more funding for CUNY. Also, by organizing with students and the community, we can build a movement powerful enough to include “common good” demands like those being made by the Free CUNY movement: eliminate tuition; provide stipends and metrocards for all students; give students access to free healthcare including mental health resources; fully fund academic programs that attract and serve marginalized immigrant students, queer and trans students, and students of color; create supportive pathways to fulltime college teaching for CUNY undergrads from diverse working-class backgrounds; and more.

Q: Can’t we just settle this contract and work toward a strike for the next one?

A: There will likely be no better time for a strike campaign than over the next nine months. Unemployment is at a historic low, giving workers significant power to win better pay and working conditions. Striking is on everyone’s minds, especially in education, and public support for unions is at its highest point in decades. A recession is said to be around the corner—probably soon after the 2020 elections—and once it gets here, striking will be harder, even as college enrollment expands and the pressures on CUNY grow. If we accept an unfunded contract now, a demoralized and demobilized PSC membership and student body will face a deepening crisis. It’s time to stand up and fight back.

Got more questions? Email them to 7korstrike@gmail.com and we’ll try to answer them here.

$7K or Strike
Updated September 17, 2019