Axed pay hike slams CUNY adjunct staff



CUNY officials are withholding a promised 2% pay raise for faculty and staff amid the state fiscal crisis ? a significant financial setback for adjunct professors already struggling with lower wages, fewer job protections and a lack of benefits.

“It’s just really devastating,” said Rosa Squillacote, an adjunct professor at Hunter College and head of part-time staff for the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY faculty union.

“Adjuncts budget really meticulously given how low our pay is. Most adjuncts really count on every nickel and dime,” she added.

CUNY faculty and staff negotiated the 2% pay bump in last year’s contract, but university officials have told the faculty union they can’t afford to follow through with the raise while the state withholds a portion of the university system’s funding until a federal stimulus arrives, according to PSC President Barbara Bowen.

“Everybody we represent understands there’s a state deficit,” said Bowen. “But what it [the withheld pay raise] amounts to is a policy decision not to contest New York state’s protection of the rich by not imposing fair taxes on them.”

The delayed pay bump, which was originally supposed to take effect Nov. 15, is a particularly bruising blow to the university system’s thousands of adjunct staffers ? both because they were already in a more precarious financial position, and because of the structure of the CUNY payroll system.

Adjuncts are paid per class they teach, and CUNY front-loaded some of the expected Nov. 15 pay bump by boosting adjuncts’ pay rates starting in the fall to evenly distribute the bump over the full academic year.

But now that the university can’t afford the hike, adjuncts’ pay will drop in the spring to compensate, meaning they will have a pay cut for the rest of the year.

“Having my paycheck be less next semester than it was this semester is going to be very difficult,” said Mike Cramer, an adjunct professor of communications at Borough of Manhattan Community College and City College.

“It just makes my life much more precarious. Like everybody else, I have struggles with rent, struggles to put food on the table.”

The cancelled raise is the latest bad news for CUNY’s adjuncts, who typically teach about half the courses offered across the sprawling city university system.

Roughly 2,800 adjuncts were laid off this fall amid budget cuts, and many of those still working are contending with larger class sizes, even amid shrinking enrollment.

Enrollment is down significantly in the system’s community colleges, and adjuncts like Cramer worry they may have less sections to teach this spring. That would mean an even bigger pay cut and the potential for health insurance ? based on the number of courses an adjunct teaches ? to be disrupted.

“Adjuncts are scared and angry,” said Squillacote, the union rep for adjuncts. “People who have lost their jobs are really angry. People who have kept their jobs are really scared. … It’s a really bad position to be in.”

Bowen said CUNY officials haven’t specified if or when the pay increase will be restored.

The union filed a class action lawsuit and is hoping to enter arbitration with the university, she added.

State budget spokesman Freeman Klopott said the state was forced to withhold CUNY funding because of an “enrollment decline at colleges and a devastating decline in state revenues that the federal government has failed to offset.”

“Ultimately, in the absence of federal funding, many of these temporary withholdings could become permanent spending reductions, and we will work with the legislature to make those determinations,” he added.

The main entrance to City College of New York’s Harlem location has been shut and locked for most of the coronavirus pandemic. Sam Costanza | for New York Daily News

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