How Much Can Unions Lift Adjuncts? CUNY Contract Fight Hinges on What’s Good Enough.

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured article on the collective bargaining offer that CUNY and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) have agreed to and is awaiting ratification by the union membership.  CUNY faculty have been without a contract for six years.  The article focuses on the concerns of adjunct faculty and graduate assistants who feel that the pay increases are inadequate.  Here is an excerpt.

“The City University of New York’s faculty members are divided over a tentative contract and a longstanding question: Just how much can adjunct instructors expect to gain by belonging to unions?

CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, says part-time faculty members should celebrate the gains it has made on their behalf in a hard-fought labor agreement. But many part-time instructors and graduate assistants oppose ratification of the new contract, arguing that it represents more of a defeat than a victory.

The agreement, accepted by CUNY’s administration and board last month, would offer many of the university system’s part-time instructors both much more job security and access to health insurance that they previously lacked. It would not substantially increase their pay, however, and would do little to close gaps between their earnings and those of their full-time counterparts.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, last week said her union had “secured an enormous defensive victory” by winning the new contract and the state’s pledge of funds to cover it, especially considering that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, at that point had proposed a steep cut in state support for the university system.

While acknowledging that her union’s leaders view the agreement as far from perfect, Ms. Bowen nonetheless argued that “it is strongly in members’ interest to ratify the contract,” because otherwise the union risks losing whatever ground it has gained.

Several groups representing adjunct instructors and graduate students, however, are complaining that the union’s negotiators did not secure nearly enough for its members, and squandered the clout they had gained at the bargaining table when union members in May overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. They are urging fellow union members to reject the contract in a ratification vote that ends on August

“I just want to tell CUNY ‘No,’” said Ruth E. Wangerin, an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at Lehman College who is active in a group called CUNY Struggle.

“We took the strike-authorization vote,” Ms. Wangerin said. “When are we going to fight, if not now?”

It has been American higher education’s dilemma that adjunct and contingent faculty have been paid so poorly.  As the article suggests, the CUNY offer does little to alleviate the problem.





  1. Good luck! At AFT Local 1828 the adjuncts organized a NO vote on our contract this last June because it made no progress toward pay parity, etc. We lost the vote 90-345, because full-time union leadership played the same card: the contract was the best they could do, they claimed, and the full-time faculty voted in record numbers to ratify to protect their interests at our expense. Nevertheless, we have organized and are going to continue the fight for progress toward equity. It’s time for all of us who are supposedly represented by unions to stand up and fight our own leadership.