By FARAZ T. TOOR
City University of New York faculty and staff gave their boss a personalized wake-up call early Thursday morning, complete with drums, trumpets, and over 100 alarm clocks.
CUNY employees, their union representatives, and outside labor unions protested their lack of contract since 2010 outside CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken’s luxury apartment on the Upper East Side.
“If we have to, we should be here every week and shame him in front of his neighbors,” said Mary Cahill, a member of the New York State Nurses Association.
More than 500 people participated in the protest on East 68th Street at 8 a.m. Most were CUNY employees, but some outsiders—such as members of the nurses union, New York Hotel Trades Council, and city librarians—joined them.
“He’s got to feel a little heat,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, the union representing some 25,000 faculty and staff.
A cacophony of sound rang through the air as the protestors marched back-and-forth behind barricades outside the apartment building; a number of them held up buzzing alarm clocks, some beat drums, and others played instruments—all to garner Milliken’s attention.
“The bills are increasing, our debt is going up, we tap into our credit cards,”said Fitz Richardson, a Medgar Evers College lab technician. “We’re more in debt than five years ago. We got to get everyone up.”
PSC has called for a contract that includes, among other things, a wage hike, reductions in full-time faculty workload, and increased parity and job stability for adjuncts and retroactive pay.
“We strongly support the efforts of CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken and the administration’s efforts to obtain a fair contract with faculty and staff.” Board of Trustees Chairperson Benno Schmidt said in a statement that the university released Tuesday. “The Chancellor has indicated that the resolution of the collective bargaining is his highest priority and the Board of Trustees is in complete agreement.”
But this statement didn’t satisfy the protestors.
“The soldiers on the ground can’t afford to live in New York,” Cahill said about CUNY employees.
CUNY can negotiate the contract with its employees, but a contentious debate continues over how to fund raises, retroactive pay, and other demands. According to PSC, Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated that CUNY will have to pay for any salary increases out of its operating budget.
New York State provides most of CUNY’s funding. While the state did allocate more money to CUNY in the Fiscal Year 2015-16, the university argues that this did not include funding for “$51 million of University-mandatory cost increases, including those associated with fringe benefits, contractual salary increments, energy, and building rental costs.”
“It’s clear that the governor thinks that it’s more important to give tax breaks to people who own yachts than fund higher education,” said Alex Vitale, PSC’s vice president for senior colleges.
But the protestors Thursday called on Milliken and CUNY to find money to fund the new contract—including by addressing the large income gap between CUNY’s top executives and most of their employees.
Milliken’s total compensation package amounts to $670,000 yearly, including his posh apartment with a rent estimated at over $18,000 monthly.
In comparison, most long-tenured full professors make some $116,000 and most employees earn less than that, including adjuncts, who make a few thousand dollars per course.
“People are definitely not happy that the chancellor’s salary has gone up nearly 50 percent while we have no contract and tuition goes up,” Vitale said.
John Pittman, an associate professor at John Jay College, said he sympathized with CUNY’s struggle with the state, but only to a certain degree.
“The position they’re in is [that] they have less money and are told to make cuts,” said Pittman, who is also John Jay’s PSC chairman. “But that is not acceptable…..Milliken needs to do his job and get money on the table.”
PSC says the members have become increasingly exasperated with CUNY.
“There’s anger and resignation and that’s dangerous,” Vitale said. “We’re running the risk of the staff losing faith in CUNY. You run the risk of them checking out.”
According to Vitale, an increasing number of professors are pursuing outside ventures to supplement their income, which may result in them not being able to focus on their students as attentively.
“It’s been so long and our members have been so frustrated,” Pittman said. “We want to get out on the street…show our displeasure in physical, angry protests.”
To that end, the CUNY and other city employees decided to protest on a day that Milliken was scheduled to meet with CUNY’s Board of Trustees at Baruch College. The goal: to force him to remember their contract status at the meeting.
About six months before the protest, Milliken told the PSC that he did not want them to protest outside his apartment building, Vitale said.