As members of the $7K or Strike Campaign (which includes CUNY adjuncts, tenure-track/tenured faculty, HEOs, CLTs, students, and other NYC union members) we are deeply disappointed by the March 21, 2019 letter signed by PSC Principal Officers Barbara Bowen, Andrea Vásquez, Sharon Persinger, and Nivedita Majumdar, which has misinformed our fellow union members about our work.
The letter claims that we are a small group of union members who have intentionally attempted to represent ourselves as union leadership, and who claim that “$7K or Strike” is the union’s official position. None of that is true. $7K or Strike is a movement that reaches out to PSC members, students, and New York City communities to inform them about the need to make the $7K per class demand non-negotiable. We have used a public conference, multiple campus grade–ins, tabling, office visits, chapter meetings, one-on-one dialogues, picket line solidarity with other NYC unions, and coalition meetings to build solidarity to achieve the robust contract that all PSC members deserve.
During this campaign, we have clearly and respectfully distinguished ourselves from the PSC leadership, in large part because we have a different strategic vision for how to win a solid contract. While the leadership has sought to mobilize the contract struggle from the top down, we believe that only a rank-and-file upsurge of participation – galvanized by the clear $7K or Strike demand – can build a fighting union. Furthermore, during this campaign, we have always set our primary sights on who our real adversaries are: CUNY management and the city and state government, who have all refused to allocate the funds necessary to transform our university.
The Open Letter’s suggestion that PSC members have been confused or alienated by the $7K or Strike campaign is deeply insulting to the hundreds of members across all titles who – knowing full well that $7K or Strike is not yet the official position of the entire union – have signed pledge cards calling on the leadership to hold a strike authorization vote, signed solidarity letters in support of striking to win $7K, and voted for resolutions stating the same. We hope the PSC leadership recognizes that the $7K or Strike Campaign is complementary to its efforts and urge them to seize on the momentum that we have co-created.
Our campaign does this work as much to attain secure, safe, and respected labor practices as to protect the right to quality affordable education for our students who experience tuition increases with no investment in the university system’s infrastructure and staff. Our campaign has generated solidarity from hundreds of students across the CUNY system who have signed a letter supporting the $7K or Strike demand.
Our members have taken active roles in the PSC, leading efforts to increase PSC membership, while attending and voting at PSC Delegate Assemblies, Committee of Adjuncts and Part-Timers meetings, and PSC campaigns, press conferences, and rallies to show that our union must be united to end the rampant exploitation of our adjunct faculty and improve the lives of all of those who work and study at CUNY. We would expect leadership to be overjoyed to see such committed organizers dedicating our free time to building union power.
Resolutions and statements in support of $7K or Strike have passed at ten PSC chapters and counting, at meetings – historically sparsely attended – that have drawn large numbers of newly-activated members. The Open Letter’s accusations are a clear attempt to silence that democratic endorsement. The letter uses the language of “subterfuge” to foment the very kinds of divisions it purports to overcome, and to alienate those of us committed to drawing on, if necessary, the most effective form of direct action available to organized labor movements.
We have called for a PSC Town Hall to discuss and debate the merits of various approaches, which the leadership has refused to host. Meanwhile, the bargaining team in its recent counter-proposal to CUNY management has conceded the clear demand for $7K with no input from the membership.
The groundbreaking teachers’ strikes in Chicago, LA, Oakland, West Virginia, and elsewhere, which won game-changing gains for students, families, and workers alike, took years to build. As rank-and-file union members, we believe that we are overdue to build toward a strike. The bargaining team can’t flip a switch overnight. The Open Letter states we need to wait for leadership’s signal to organize for a strike. They forget that the rank-and-file can’t afford to wait. If we want to win transformative demands for all job titles and for our students, then we need to prepare and have those conversations now. It is not because we take the risks of a strike lightly that we have undertaken this campaign; it is because we know there is hard work ahead for us to win these entwined gains.
The PSC leadership’s decision to pit the $7K or Strike Campaign – rank-and-file union organizers across titles – against the rest of the union callously disregards our precarious economic situation. It is a cynical attempt to demolish the bridges of solidarity that we members have built.
We invite all PSC members who support the $7K or Strike Campaign to sign pledge cards, sign the solidarity letter, and pass $7K or Strike resolutions in your chapters. We also urge you to attend the April 18 PSC Delegate Assembly wearing red to show our collective impact in transforming this contract campaign. Who speaks for the union? All of us. The rank and file. Let us act together. A diversity of voices strengthens our union.
Original statement by PSC leadership
March 21, 2019
AN OPEN LETTER ON “7K OR STRIKE”
To the Proponents of “7K or Strike”:
The misrepresentation of the PSC’s position on the question of a strike has to stop. “7K or Strike” is not the position of the union.
Some members who have participated in “7K or Strike” events have done so because they want to open up discussion of whether a strike is the right tactic for this moment, or because they believe they are advancing the union’s contract campaign, or simply because they want to show their support for adjuncts. All of these positions are valid. But a relatively small group of “7K or Strike” proponents has attempted to confuse colleagues and the media about the union’s position. This letter is addressed to them.
As the four principal officers of the union, we call on this group to stop the misrepresentation. At a moment when the union needs the power of unity more than ever before, you are creating confusion and division. You are diminishing our power and creating potential legal risk.
We welcome honest debate about tactics and priorities. What we reject is the dishonest practice by a group that has repeatedly tried to represent the union’s position as calling for a strike if management does not agree to raise adjunct pay in this contract to $7K per three-credit course. These members do not speak for the union. Specifically, we call on these members to:
- Stop falsely asserting that various union chapters have “endorsed” the position “7K or Strike.” These chapters have held unofficial votes in meetings that did not have quorums on various resolutions that described support for a number of tactics, including the possibility of a strike.
- Stop asserting to the media that you speak for the union or that the union’s position is “7K or Strike.”
- Stop appropriating or approximating graphic designs created by and for the PSC as a whole and using them to suggest that the union’s position is “7K or Strike.”
- Stop representing events organized by PSC chapters or the union as a whole as events promoting “7K or Strike.”
- Stop claiming that a pledge card you have created to indicate support for a strike is a “union pledge card.”
The elected leadership of the union is 100% committed to all the bargaining demands on the table for all members, including raising the minimum adjunct pay for a 3-credit course to $7,000. We ask you to be as serious about winning as we are.
The PSC has been building the power to win our demands-for the whole membership-since before the negotiations for a new contract began more than a year ago. An increase in adjunct pay is a demand for the whole membership. Thousands of PSC members-full-timers as well as part-timers, staff as well as faculty-have demonstrated their support. And now labor leaders across the city have pledged their support for our demand as a demand that is critical for all workers in the city.
Last week, the PSC bargaining team answered CUNY management’s unacceptable economic offer with a comprehensive counterproposal that includes raises above inflation for all, makes significant investments in equity increases, addresses important non-economic issues, and offers a way of reaching $7K a course for adjuncts.
The union is on record calling for legislation to repeal the Taylor Law’s prohibition of strikes, and we strongly support that position. But as elected officers responsible for the wellbeing of the union and the interests of our members, we understand the scope of the Taylor Law as it currently stands and the mandatory penalties it stipulates.
Strikes are a serious thing, especially under current New York law. We do not underestimate the moral and political power strikes can have, especially as the current wave of teachers’ strikes is changing the labor landscape. Strikes are a uniquely powerful tool of organized labor. But they also come with profound risks, and the union’s elected leadership takes those risks seriously.
If, at some point in negotiations, the union leadership believes that we need to consider a strike, we will make the decision through our democratically elected leadership bodies-not through subterfuge. And if we were to consider a strike, we would put the proposal before the entire membership honestly.
Transforming adjunct pay may be the hardest thing the PSC has ever tried to do. The union also has other urgent demands. We need everyone pulling together, not some people trying to pull the union apart. Cross-title solidarity goes more than one way. We must all support each other and each other’s demands.
We invite every proponent of “7K or Strike” to recognize how much public support the demand has already gained. Stop jeopardizing that support by insulting, confusing and alienating your fellow members. Advocate for your position honestly within the union, not through deceit. Above all, join the PSC’s campaign for a contract we can all be proud of. Be part of a strategy to win.
In solidarity, Barbara Bowen, PSC President Andrea Vásquez, PSC First Vice President Sharon Persinger, PSC Treasurer Nivedita Majumdar, PSC Secretary