Should Hunter and CUNY Do More to Alert Students About a Possible Strike?

Article by Chasity Fernandes, May 22, 2016

Alexa Ellis, who writes for the WORD, sits with friends on Hunter’s third-floor sky bridge during Dean’s Hour, the time of day when many students on campus don’t have class. They watch as the sky bridge gets extremely crowded as many students rush to the cafeteria or the library, the campus hangout places.

On this date, student members of The Envoy, which calls itself the independent voice of Hunter students, circulate flyers about a possible strike by the union representing CUNY faculty as well as to recruit student writers. The group usually sets up a table with posters and flyers to attract passersby into stopping to learn more about what is going at CUNY.

“I know that the Professional Staff Congress is proposing a strike, I just think the reasons for why and what exactly is going on is a little confusing. At first, I thought it was a whole CUNY versus SUNY issue, in regards to Governor Cuomo increasing the wages of low income workers (at SUNY) but not CUNY’s, “ says Ellis, 19. What would she do if the union called a strike? “I am in favor of it,” she said.

The Professional Staff Congress represents the more than 25,000 faculty and staff at City University of New York who have not had a contract in five years nor a raise in six, according to information in a PSC press release, On Minimum Wage Increase: Yet Again, Gov. Fails to Invest in CUNY.

The article quotes PSC President Barbara Bowen about Governor Cuomo’s executive order, which raised the wages of SUNY workers but not CUNY workers. Ellis was confused that the executive order was the reason for the possible strike.

Cuomo’s decision was unfair, says Bowen and others. “The decision to exclude CUNY from the wage increase is a slap in the face to the thousands of low-wage workers whose labor helps to make a college education possible for CUNY’s 500,000 students,” Bowen is quoted in the article. “It is part of a pattern of refusing to invest the necessary funds in CUNY: the governor continues to deny any state funding for pay increases for CUNY’s academic staff, who have not had a raise in five years. Cuomo’s continuing refusal to invest in decent pay for CUNY workers is hurting the whole University. Full-time faculty are beginning to seek other jobs, and there are part-time faculty on food stamps because their CUNY salaries are so low.”

In another PSC press release (that was picked up by several news organizations), To Reduce Inequality, Reinvest In CUNY, by Meena Alexander, Michelle Finne, and Nicholas Freudenberg, three CUNY professors, “Since 1847, the City University of New York has provided millions of New Yorkers with a path out of poverty and an opportunity to contribute to our city. CUNY connects New Yorkers across boroughs, zip codes, races, and social classes.”

Will Prime, 22, a psychology major who lives in Brooklyn, sat on one of the library group study floors at a table with friends. He was dressed in a black and red bomber jacket, a hoodie, and jeans. Books were spread about and laptops were out. “I’d say CUNY definitely allows New Yorkers to connect. I’ve met so many people of different races, from completely different boroughs,” he says, gesturing to the table of friends where he is seated.

“Being at CUNY, you make connections all over New York. But I had no idea the issues the University was facing as far as contracts, and I’m interested to find out how that affects me as a student, if at all,” he says.

According to the Alexander, Finne, and Freudenberg press release, the poor funding of CUNY affects students.

“In recent years, growing enrollment in the face of diminished state support, even at a time when the state’s finances are strong, has forced CUNY to drop courses, lay off part-time faculty members and cut money from student services, according to the comments. It has also deferred maintenance of aging facilities and delayed modernizing laboratories, a handicap for our science and technology students. CUNY is now a system overly reliant on underpaid, dedicated, adjunct labor. The cost-cutting forces some students to delay graduation, a predictor of dropout, and saps faculty morale.”

Steve Budhan, 24, a psychology major who lives in Queens, sitting on the Hunter skywalk, and wearing Adidas track pants and red Nike roshe run sneakers, says, “The fact that this issue could indirectly affect students’ graduation as well as their work, is crazy. The fact that so many students are completely unaware or this is even crazier. It makes you wonder why Hunter College isn’t doing more to inform its students to help us join their fight for a PSC contract.”

Chasity Fernandes can be reached at