Day 78–No Response from CUNY Union Pres. But Progress on One of the Letter’s Asks

It has now been 78 days since union president Barbara Bowen and 17 other union and Graduate Center (GC) chapter leaders have received the open letter, with no response from Bowen. We’re currently at 186 signatories.

In significant news, however, there’s now progress on one of the asks in the letter: the change in chapter-affiliation policy for graduate student workers. Adjunct Project (AP) coordinators Jenn Chancellor, Luke Elliott, and I met with the union’s executive director, Debbie Bell, first vice-president, Steve London, and treasurer, Mike Fabricant, on Monday, June 30th, at the union’s office near Wall St. to discuss the AP’s proposal. Whether this meeting occurred in part because of the letter campaign is hard to say—as the letter itself mentions, the AP submitted our proposal way back in December—but we tend to think the campaign had something to do with finally making the meeting happen. We met again today with Bell and Fabricant, along with GC chapter chair Michael Handis, officer Penny Lewis, and a few Doctoral Students’ Council officers, to firm up the details as we head toward the beginning of the fall semester.

The union’s current policy on graduate-student-worker affiliation is that the campus on which you provide instructional labor determines what chapter you affiliate with, regardless of whether you’re paid by the GC (via a graduate fellowship) or by that particular campus (as an adjunct). Our proposal was to allow all graduate student workers at the GC, regardless of the campus on which they provide instructional labor or the source of their wages, to affiliate with the chapter of their choice: either the GC or the campus on which they provide instructional labor, whether as an adjunct or as a fellow. The basic rationale was that our student status and our instructional-labor status as GC students cannot be separated given the large inequities in fellowship funding at the GC—and, thus, that if one is adjuncting at a CUNY campus, as opposed to being an instructional fellow there, the need to adjunct is directly determined by the inequitable distribution of resources by the GC (and CUNY).

The union’s counter proposal, in turn, met us halfway: union leadership has agreed to give all GC students on fellowships the choice of which campus to affiliate with, the GC or the one at which they provide instructional labor, but they will not budge on giving adjuncting GC students the same choice. We spent more than an hour discussing their reasons for this decision and offering our counter reasons, but they were adamant, mostly for reasons of litigation concern (owing to litigation they were entangled with several years ago after an insurgent, albeit right-wing, party contested the executive-slate election and lost) and impressions of unfairness, since graduate student workers at other campuses would not also be able to have a choice in chapter affiliation.

We agreed to go forward with their proposal, to which they added the offer of forming a standing committee of the union’s executive council dedicated to graduate-student-worker issues and composed of graduate student workers from across CUNY. Altogether, we’ll be able to build graduate-student-worker power in close proximity to the union’s leadership body at the same time we build it at the GC under the new chapter-affiliation policy.

Bell, London, and Fabricant suggested both the policy change and the standing-committee proposal could go before the union’s Delegate Assembly (the legislative body) for approval at its late-September meeting, and Bell and Fabricant confirmed that timeline again at today’s meeting. We’re glad to be working with them on this initiative, though we remain committed to the two remaining asks in the open letter (the union having not provided free registration to CUNY adjuncts for next week’s COCAL XI conference. Instead, please join us at #altCOCAL next Wednesday from 1:30p).

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