Collective Bargaining

June 21, 2005 | News from the Chancellor

I am taking this opportunity to write to you to clarify the University’s offer to the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY during this round of bargaining. I would like to focus on three areas: the University’s increment schedule, the University’s commitment to the Welfare Fund, and the June 14, 2005 bargaining session.

CUNY’s Increment Schedule

Almost all of CUNY’s instructional staff, including the Professoriate, Higher Education Officer series employees, and College Laboratory Technician series employees, are on a salary schedule that provides for annual increments (the salary step schedule). This is an important benefit that should not be taken for granted. It does not exist at most universities, including SUNY. Employees advance up the schedule by receiving annual salary increases. At the top of these schedules, there are two super steps, which take longer than one year to achieve. However, colleges may request to accelerate an instructional staff member’s movement through the schedule for good reasons.

These increments are in addition to any across-the-board salary increases that are negotiated between the University and the PSC. The PSC attempts to minimize the significance of these increments as if they should not count in determining the University’s compensation of instructional staff (Clarion, May 2005, page 10). However, a fair evaluation of the University’s offer must take into account the entire salary package, and, in fact, the increments have a significant effect on instructional staff salaries. Consider the following example: An Assistant Professor who was hired on September 1, 2001 at an annual salary of $53,455 received increments effective January 1, 2003, January 1, 2004, and January 1, 2005. Simply by virtue of the increments provided under the salary step schedule, this professor’s salary increased as follows:

Salary on

9/1/01   $53,455

1/1/03   $56,014

1/1/04   $58,558

1/1/05   $61,111

In other words, this professor received a 4.8% salary increase on January 1, 2003, a 4.5% increase on January 1, 2004, and a 4.4% increase on January 1, 2005. This 14% salary increase occurred without any across-the board increases. If the PSC were to accept the University’s offer, the proposed across-the-board increases would boost that salary increase to 23% over that four-year period, an average 5.4% annual increase. The University has emphasized the real value of the salary step schedule at the bargaining table because the PSC claimed that CUNY was offering them a salary cut.

The PSC takes the continuation of these increments for granted, asserting that they “were negotiated and paid for many contracts ago” (Clarion, May 2005, page 10). That is wrong. In each round of bargaining, every provision of the prior agreement is subject to negotiation. Some provisions are carried forward to the successor agreement with little or no discussion; other provisions are presented by one party or the other for modification or elimination. In the current round of bargaining, the continuation of the increments in the salary step schedule was on the table for serious discussion. However, in the interest of trying to move the negotiations forward, the University withdrew its proposal. The PSC also brought the increments and their value into the negotiations through their characterization of the UUP/SUNY agreement, which they used as a starting point in fashioning their economic proposal. Specifically, the PSC argued that they were entitled to the equivalent of the four 1% discretionary increases that existed in the SUNY package (which did not exist in other settlements negotiated by the State). The PSC has been told repeatedly in this round and in prior rounds of bargaining that those annual 1% discretionary increases were provided to SUNY because, unlike CUNY, SUNY does not have a salary step schedule. Moreover, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations made clear to the PSC that if they want the annual 1% discretionary increases like SUNY, they must forgo the existing salary step schedule.

The cost of the increments provided to CUNY instructional staff through the salary step schedule, and the corresponding benefit to the instructional staff, equals an annual increase of 1.4%.

Welfare Fund

During this round of bargaining, the PSC has expressed a sense of urgency for increased contributions to the Welfare Fund, asserting in its newsletter, the Clarion (April 2005, page 6 and 7), that the Welfare Fund’s reserves “are almost gone” and that “[u]nless CUNY contributes more – and soon – cuts in benefit coverage will be unavoidable.” As you know, the Welfare Fund’s fiscal problems are not the result of underfunding by the University, as alleged by the PSC: The University contributes on an annual per capita basis an amount that was negotiated with the PSC. The Welfare Fund receives this contribution and its governing body of 12 trustees, which is controlled by PSC designees with only two trustees from the administration of the University, determines the type and level of benefits. The Welfare Fund’s fiscal problems are the result of the escalating costs of health benefits and decisions made by the Welfare Fund.

In its offer, the University has recognized the PSC’s concerns about the Welfare Fund: It has presented a comprehensive package to settle the collective bargaining agreement that addresses the Welfare Fund’s current needs by channeling $30 million in cash to the PSC/CUNY Welfare Fund almost immediately upon the ratification of the agreement and by increasing the University’s annual contribution by approximately $12 million.

June 14, 2005 Bargaining Session

In light of the PSC’s assertion of an imminent fiscal crisis looming at the Welfare Fund, one would anticipate a sense of urgency on the union’s side to settle the collective bargaining agreement and thus provide resources to the Welfare Fund. Yet, the University perceives no sense of urgency from the union’s recent conduct at the bargaining table.

On May 24, 2005, the University presented a comprehensive offer to the PSC, which I summarized in an earlier e-message. At the May 24, 2005 meeting, the PSC preliminarily rejected the offer, expressing “surprise” and “disappointment,” but indicated that it would provide the University with a formal response at the next bargaining session, which was subsequently scheduled for June 14th. At that session, the union again expressed “surprise” and “disappointment,” formally rejected the offer without any detailed response to its particulars, and, significantly, presented no counterproposal, although the union had had approximately three weeks to develop a response and counterproposal. In addition, the PSC re-asserted its position that the money to solve the Welfare Fund’s fiscal problems must be in addition to any money that could otherwise be applied to salary increases.

To date, the PSC has insisted on an economic proposal that substantially exceeds the economic terms of pattern agreements that both the City and the State have reached in the current round of bargaining and still has approximately 30 additional economic and non-economic demands on the table. From their statements at the June 14th session, it is clear that the PSC still maintains the inconsistent position that they want to bargain for increased funding for the Welfare Fund, but they do not want the money allocated to the increased funding to be charged to the economic package. All of the funding available for collective bargaining is part of the economic package and could, in theory, be applied to salaries. In each round, the parties take the economic package and distribute it to pay for salary increases and to meet various other needs. In this round, the PSC has identified increased contributions to the Welfare Fund as a pressing need.

The PSC’s members are the University’s valued employees and we are anxious to conclude negotiations so that they may receive well-deserved salary increases and that their benefits may be preserved. We believe that our May 24th offer is responsive and responsible. Further delay is not productive. The PSC has committed to giving the University a counterproposal at the next bargaining session. We hope that it will be a productive session.