Well, this may be a little premature, but it looks like the attempt to get a living wage as a CUNY adjunct has failed. The PSC is muttering about a strike. The leadership is clueless. The members unversed.
Apparently contract negotiations are not proceeding in any novel way. It looks more and more like CUNY just wants to give out, like all other unions for the past umpteenth year, 2% raises across the board. Two percent of nothing is? Nothing So the leadership is nattering--strike.
Yesterday we held a meeting. It is not a violation of the Taylor law to talk about a strike, or vote for a strike. But the problem is--leadership does not want to brainstorm alternatives to a strike.
An academic union is different from the international ladies worker's garment union. For one thing, almost every body involved has a doctorate. And several postdocs. And is published. So getting unanimous support is, of course, never going to happen. We all think we know better. Maybe I do.
For one thing, I think some of my leaders are clueless. One of them, attempting to rouse us from our slumber, said, "The students are with us." Really? Not mine. Mine want their courses over with, with little interruption. They do not really care about my problems. I do not talk with them about adjunct issues. It would be inappropriate. It would be crossing boundaries. My job is to take care of them vis-a-vis coursework. My job is to convey information via recommending texts, delivering lectures, showing appropriate audio-visual clips, assigning papers, and giving tests, among other things. My job is to give them feedback and grades within a reasonable period of time. My job is to inspire them to continue into a four year college, and not be part of CUNY's "leaky pipe." I do not talk about my problems. In my classes, the issues of American labor and subcontracting stay out. When it comes to labor, I talk about all the things you can do with a psychology degree. Oh, the places you'll go. And I am sincere. Critical thinking and good writing skills go far and wide. WIth a well-trained mind, you can get into MBA, MPH, and many other programs.
Of course, this is not to say that CUNY's treatment of adjuncts is sage and justified. I'm saying, we do not displace our aggression on those with even less than we.
Most adjuncts are not graduate students. Now, adjuncts have earned their Ph.D's and apparently can not find fulfilling full time work. They are like the freeway professors in California---taking the subway from one college to another, allowing themselves to be exploited by teaching 8-10 courses a semester--twice the courseload of a full-time professor and at 1/3 the price! Because of their part-time status, it is difficult to fill out the enormous volume of paperwork necessary to apply for research grants. Furthermore, you can't apply for a research grant and state--"If I get the grant, CUNY will give me an office and I can use graduate students to assist me." Doctoral level people have been making do apparently for decades. Furthermore, it is rumored that some CUNY adjuncts qualify for public assistance.
What is not a rumor--lack of health insurance. A few years back, a doctoral level CUNY history adjunct died due to complications of asthma. She ignored her problems, because she couldn't afford medical care. Finally, in her last hours, she was in so much agony that her friends forcibly took her to the ER. She died soon after--her lungs were so ruined from the years of neglect that emergency intervention was useless. At least if she qualified for public assistance, she'd have gotten health insurance!
Why do Ph.D's allow this exploitation? Why not just do something less intellectually stimulating with more benefits? What is so fascinating about the allure of maybe--I can be a full-time professor? I was a full-time professor--you can have it. Three years ago, I resigned--too little pay, too much harassment: from both students and deans. I wrote a simple letter of resignation, stating that "I was resigning due to financial reasons." Well, there was that too. After the founder died, staff stopped receiving any raises and administration started receiving yearly double digit ones. I made a case to get a raise/promotion. I demonstrated how I added value to the college: I taught courses that had not been offered in decades. I conducted research. I presented my papers internationally. I attended continuing education classes. I gave a continuing education seminar free of charge to the psychology faculty on the DSM5. When the MTA went on strike, I left my house early and walked: 10,000 steps each way. I never missed a class and I never came lot. So, "Thanks a lot and out with the garbage. They take bows" and you're emptying spitoons. The dean wrote back to me within a day, cc'ing my chair: "Let's replace Sharon Kahn as quickly as possible." I've no doubt they did--for less pay. The lure of being a full-time professor in New York is overwhelming. People will overlook almost anything else--dignity, economics, etc. "Sure," I imagined my replacement saying, "Dr. Kahn was unhappy. But I would be thrilled to affiliate myself with this college, for less pay." They probably replaced me with a master's level person.
Tut mir leider. But I digress. Why am I against a strike, me who seeks to emulate Emma Goldman and Clara Lemlich? Because I'm realistic and pragmatic. Besides the displacement of aggression unto the students, here's the simple fact--we are all disposable. There is an endless supply of graduate students, drop-out graduate students, and doctoral level individuals who think "gosh, I'd like to have a go at university teaching." If adjuncts go out on strike, there are enough desperate others who will gladly cross the picket line and pick up the baton, so that the students progress is not interrupted. If adjunct go out on strike, they will not get paid. If adjunct miss more than two classes, they will be fired. So the strike will be over quite quickly--within two days, all the adjuncts will be fired and new ones in place. Sadly, CUNY does not pay the worst in adjunct wages. We probably have the best educated, best trained ones, but, that doesn't matter. Go on strike and one will find that the old adjunct will not even get "thanks a lot." Just, "out with the garbage." This is NYC. There is always someone more hungry. There are plenty of retired public school teachers, plenty of retired CEO's, plenty of retired whatso's--and they can think of it as public service, giving back, etc. I remember an old Doonesbury cartoon, where the Yale adjuncts went on strike. The dean went into the community with a truck and a bullhorn, advertising, "We need an economics adjunct." In less time than to blink an eye, several jumped on besides him. In the crowd, you'd see potential hirees holding up signs, "Will work for food." I've had chairs tell me that sometimes, the first day of class, they go into the nearby bars and advertise over a beer. They get their men (and women).
Furthermore, it is premature to talk about the strike. Sure, negotiations have failed. But surely there are options between 2% and strike. Hence the need for brainstorming. In all the meetings I have been to, leadership does not ask the rank and file--what else is there? What else can you suggest? Apparently, they place too much reliance on social media--they have twitter accounts and facebook sites. However, social media does not even begin to give a representative sample. Social media increasingly is about extremism of the left and right. The only people who will follow your accounts are likeminded sorts and trolls.
Brainstorm--what about e-magazines? How about mass e-mails to all adjuncts. Every adjunct has a campus e-mail--easy enough to communicate with them on a regular basis. How about occupying the deans' offices, in between classes? How about having a regular cadre of adjuncts picket in front of board members' houses? Make yourselves relevant to their everyday lives. Can we talk?