On ‘Two Tier’ and the Second-Rate Adjunct Health Plan–A Graduate Center Alum’s Response

Although Batson cries foul and claims that “the [PSC] leadership shares the same exact goal of the overwhelming majority of adjuncts—to do away with this horrible two-tier system”—this flies in the face of reality. In practice the PSC leadership has consistently demonstrated that it accepts Two Tier as the institutional and operational framework for labor-management relations. Our demands are merely bargaining chips for them, while they circle the wagons around the most pressing demands of full-timers, their actual “bottom line demands.” They occasionally procure crumbs for us from the masters’ table. Then, according to Bowen and company, we should be “patient”: these are “steps in the right direction.”

The crown jewel of their claim to defend contingents’ interests is our second rate, soon-to-die health plan. But, they had to produce something back in 2007 or 8, because they knew the adjunct health situation was becoming a pressure-cooker, and that the New Caucus, in fact, won the PSC election largely because of that pressure-cooker. During my ten years as a doctoral student at the Grad Center, I went without health care, dental care or eye-care, relying on our sole recourse to the resident nurse practitioner. Then the Grad Center eliminated her position in a budget cut. The health plan we got was second rate. And Bowen and company have hinted that the plan they are negotiating will fall short of the current one. From the outset, the union strategy should have been to demand our inclusion in the faculty health plan, should we choose it. That should have been what was put on the table, on the one hand, and that should have been infused into the very soul of CUNY faculty via a concerted campaign by the PSC leadership.

Their tacit acceptance of Two Tier is sometimes (often?) made explicit, as when they quite deliberately and casually disenfranchised adjuncts for the Pathways “referendum” in the name of expediency.

The union leadership’s acceptance of Two Tier reflects an even deeper level of labor institutionality in our society. Under the historic NLRA, the only fully legal recourse of trade unions was the grievance process, representing a shift from a conception of labor struggle that was collective and direct, to one that was individual and legalistic/institutional (this shift was then enforced through Taft-Hartley and the Taylor Law). Union leaders, anxious not to rock the boat, accepted this shift. Two Tier makes a farce of even this legalistic recourse. Our very insecurity makes us vulnerable should we challenge management abuses. Back in 2002, I was sent a letter of non-reappointment by a CUNY school, shortly after receiving a letter of reappointment. They were not even required to give an explanation. The union filed a grievance, and then agreed to settle after step I for a monetary award, but without winning the grievance. And, of course, I was never able to get a job at that school again. I had a similar outcome when I complained about a health-threatening condition at another school. This time the union didn’t even file a grievance, and I lost any chance of a future position at that school.

Bowen and others have often enough thrown the ball back into our court, claiming that we are too apathetic or heterogeneous. This is an excuse for inaction. They are “leaders”; union leaders; allegedly socially conscious union leaders. Their role is to lead. It is to “educate, agitate and organize” the entire union around adjunct issues. They have some excellent theorists of Freirian pedagogy among the PSC membership. They should use those tools to raise awareness among their own members of the necessity—ultimately, a life or death necessity for the union, itself—of championing adjunct needs. As history has shown, any union leadership worth its salt—and the most successful labor struggles—has placed the needs of the most vulnerable members FIRST.

We adjuncts under Two Tier are essentially academic braceros. And like our undocumented immigrant worker brethren, we need a “Path to Citizenship.” THAT should be explicitly at the heart of the PSC’s strategy, the sine qua non.

In solidarity,

Mike Friedman

One thought on “On ‘Two Tier’ and the Second-Rate Adjunct Health Plan–A Graduate Center Alum’s Response

  1. Dental Health i reading your blog and this particular post was especially good. Thanks for sharing it.

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