The CUNY Contract and the Fight for 15

By GREGORY N. HEIRES

CUNY Bargaining

DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido shakes hands with Pamela S.  Silverblatt, vice chancellor for labor relations at the City University of New York, after concluding negotiations for a new contract on June 10. Photo: Clarence Elie-Rivera

During the recent negotiations for the new contract with the City University of New York, DC 37 convinced the administration to extend the state’s new $15 an hour minimum wage to CUNY workers.

The side agreement will benefit thousands of DC 37 members who currently earn less than $15 an hour.

This tentative contract provides for retroactive pay increases worth more than 10 percent over its 87-month term. But with the combination of the contractual rate hikes and the minimum wage increases, many members will see their current pay increase by as much as 25 percent by the end of 2018.

“This action will substantially boost the wages of thousands of CUNY workers and other DC 37 members, and reaffirms New York’s commitment to reducing inequality in the state and city,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, who led negotiations with David Paskin, director of research and negotiations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the minimum wage law in April. The law increases the minimum wage in New York from its current rate of $9 an hour in increments to $15 an hour by 2021. Employers must adopt the $15 rate in 2018 in New York City, where the minimum wage will be implemented more quickly than in the rest of the state.

Because they are not state employees, CUNY workers were not included in the new law. So, DC 37 decided take advantage of the negotiations process for the new contract to win coverage for its members at CUNY.

Under the schedule of the state’s new minimum wage for New York City, CUNY workers who earn less than $15 an hour will see their pay go up to $13.50 an hour at the end of 2017 and to $15 an hour at the end of 2018.

The recently negotiated tentative contract will put most low-paid CUNY employees above the $12 an hour minimum wage rate that goes into effect at the end of the year. If a newly hired employee’s hourly rate is below the $12 minimum, it will be raised to the new minimum.

Back in January, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $15 minimum wage for city workers, including some 20,000 DC 37 members. But like the state’s new minimum wage, the city version also didn’t cover CUNY workers as they are not  city employees.

DC 37 Embraces Low-wage Workers’ National Fight for Economic Justice

As a union representing many modestly paid workers, DC 37 has embraced the national Fight for 15 movement, which originated with fast food workers in New York City.

The movement has raised public awareness of the struggles of low-wage workers and sparked efforts around the country to raise the minimum wage. New York State and California are the first states in the country to increase their minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The CUNY contract calls for a 1 percent increase on May 1, 2011; 1 percent on May 1, 2012; 2.5 percent on May 1, 2013, 2 percent on May 1, 2014; 2 percent on May 1, 2015, and 1.5 percent on May 1, 2016. The raises are compounded, which means that the actual value of the agreement is worth 0.41 percent more than the combined annual numerical increases. Members will receive retroactive payments to cover the raises.

Significantly, the agreement calls for a $200 welfare fund rate increase on Jan. 31, 2017. The $200 will be added — permanently — to the current $1,765 welfare fund contribution the city makes every year to cover the DC 37 benefits of each of its members and retirees.

The agreement covers about 12,000 members of DC 37 locals 375, 384, 983, 1407, 1597, 1797, 2054 and 2627. The agreement is consistent with DC 37’s 2010-17 contract with the city that affects 90,000 members.

Members Mobilize for a New Contract

The tentative contract comes after members mobilized around a campaign launched earlier this year.

The mobilization included lobbying legislators and the governor for the restoration of a $500 million budget cut for CUNY in executive budget for fiscal year 2017.Hundreds of workers turned out for a demonstration in front of the governor’s Manhattan office. And the DC 37 Organizing Dept. trained activists to encourage their coworkers to join the fight.

Members will vote on the contract through a mail ballot procedure overseen by the impartial American Arbitration Association. Ballots went out on July 1, and the vote will be tabulated July 18. The DC 37 Constitution requires that contract votes affecting more than one union local be monitored by an outside organization.

Covered DC 37 members should call 1-800-529-5218 if they do not receive a ballot by July 8.

The union has set up a special section on its website that provides background on the contract along with raise and retro calculators.

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