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CUNY union pledges to fight proposed changes that threaten adjunct job security


The union representing more than 11,000 adjuncts at the City University of New York slammed a recent proposal from CUNY management to significantly increase how many semesters adjuncts must teach before they can receive multi-year appointments.

Since 2016, CUNY adjuncts have been eligible for three-year appointments if they taught in the same department for 10 consecutive semesters, or five academic years, as part of a pilot program negotiated between the Professional Staff Congress and the CUNY administration. But CUNY wants to make significant changes once the pilot program lapses at the end of this academic year, according to James Davis, the PSC’s president.

During a Feb. 29 bargaining session, CUNY management proposed new requirements for multi-year appointments: adjuncts would have to teach 24 consecutive semesters, or 12 academic years, in order to qualify for a two-year appointment, the PSC stated. 

Under the current terms, adjuncts can be denied multi-year appointments for fiscal or programmatic reasons, but as part of the proposal, the two-year appointments can be broken at any time, according to the union.

“They want to dilute this provision so severely. The proposal would make this a toothless provision,” Davis said during a phone interview with The Chief. “I’m honestly terrified if this goes through. We’re going to fight this.”

Davis said that CUNY officials informed the PSC last summer that the university was going to let the pilot program expire because they felt it was unsuccessful. According to the PSC, CUNY management told the union during a previous bargaining session that they planned to end the pilot because “it is difficult for departments to accurately forecast fiscal and programmatic needs more than one year in advance.”

But Davis noted that not only did CUNY initially agree to the pilot, but that university officials also agreed to extend the program in 2019. “They didn’t have any problem with it then,” he said. 

CUNY did not respond to an inquiry about why they want to significantly change the terms of the multi-year appointments. “CUNY does not comment on contract negotiations,” a spokesperson stated.

Less than 3% eligible

Currently, about 2,400 adjuncts have multi-year appointments, but if the proposed changes were to be implemented, just 300 of them would be eligible, according to Davis.

“What CUNY has proposed would immediately make more than 2,000 adjuncts ineligible for city health insurance,” the union leader said. CUNY employees must teach at least six credits a semester for a year to qualify for the health plan. If the proposal were to take effect, adjuncts may still be given enough classes to qualify for health insurance, but they would no longer have the security of knowing for sure that they will have insurance for the next academic year. 

“This provision creates stability for adjuncts.… A benefit for these members is the expectation of regular income,” Davis added.

Emmy Thelander, an adjunct who has a three-year appointment and teaches art and design at Hunter College and Hostos Community College, was at the bargaining session where CUNY management made their proposal.

“I just couldn’t believe they were seriously proposing this. Everyone was flabbergasted,” she said during a phone interview. “It just reiterates the message that adjuncts are disposable and that they aren’t valued. It’s completely insulting.”

Thelander, who has health care through CUNY, said that her benefits would be at risk if the proposal were to take effect. “If I were to lose one of my classes, that would go away,” she said. 

She said that CUNY’s reasoning that the multi-year appointments don’t allow for flexibility —  including needing to move adjuncts to a different department — “seemed flimsy.” She argued that CUNY had plenty of flexibility because nearly three-quarters of adjuncts did not have three-year appointments.

“They just really haven’t provided evidence that the pilot has been unsuccessful,” the adjunct assistant professor said. 

Thelander added that meeting the current requirements was already difficult. “Five years is a long time to work without security,” she said. “And teaching 12 years in one CUNY department is a feat that’s probably harder than getting tenure.”

If the union and the university system can't reach an agreement on the multi-year appointments before the pilot lapses at the end of the spring semester, "the terms would revert back to the 2010-2017 contract, which would be terrible," Davis said. "Our members are mobilized around this."

Davis noted that the pilot program, which has been praised by the American Federation of Teachers as a pathway to job security amid an increasingly contingent workforce in higher education, has served as a model for other university systems, including Rutgers.

“To try and roll it back is really dangerous, I would say for the academic labor movement,” he said. “It’s bad for adjuncts, and it’s bad for students, too. The quality of education suffers if the workforce has no idea if they’re going to be there next semester.”


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