Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Why I Voted Against the Contract

My previous post (and the one immediately preceding it, for that matter) discusses the new labor agreement negotiated between the Professional Staff Congress and the City University of New York, and now out for a ratification vote by the PSC's rank-and-file membership. As further detailed in the prior postings to this blog, my inclination had been to vote against it.

Last Friday, the envelope with the ratification vote materials from the American Arbitration Association was in my P.O. box (which remained unaccessed all week on account of my professional schedule). After taking one last look at the proposed agreement, I marked the "NO" box on the ballot, placed the ballot in the envelope, and placed the envelope into the outgoing mail slot.

As a CUNY Adjunct faculty member, I do, of course have ample occasion to discuss the employment situation with other faculty members. Though a clear overwhelming majority of my colleagues do not believe that the proposed agreement is a particularly good one, some have expressed an intention to vote against it and some (including but in no way limited to Bill Ferns in his Ivory Soapbox blog) take the position that we should accept this substandard contract and then regroup and restrategize for the next contract negotiation session (the one now out for ratification would begin retroactively on 1 November 2002 and expire on 19 September 2007). If the only consideration to be weighed were the bottom line dollars in our paychecks and the conditions of our employment, then I, too, would go along with accepting what is now before us and then trying to make a comeback during the talks for the next contract.

But there is more here than meets the eye.

Being a lawyer, and having served as a Contracting Officer for the Department of Defense, I have had much experience in the negotiation process. There are two types of negotiations; those which determine how the parties will have no further relationship with one another, and those which determine how the parties will continue to relate to one another.

The purchase/sale of a home, the settlement of a case of wrongful discharge from employment, a lawsuit for injury to person or property in an automobile collision, or tax litigation against the IRS entail negotiations of the first type. The parties' objective is to end their entanglements with one another and to go forward and onward.

Other types of negotiations will determine the terms and conditions under which the parties will continue to interact with one another. Paradoxically, divorce litigation usually falls into this category, especially when alimony or child custody issues are involved. In fact, the parties to a divorce will in some way, sound or perverse, continue to relate to one another when there are children of the marriage. One reason why divorce litigation is so distasteful (I refuse to take matrimonial cases in my law practice) is because the contract governing how a relationship will be continued (albeit in a markedly different form) was negotiated using techniques and processes geared towards a termination of all interactions.

Most Government contracts for the procurement of materials or services also fall into this second category because the purveyor of goods or services to the Government will typically seek additional Governmental contracts in the future.

Labor contracts are the very epitome of negotiating an ongoing and future relationship. In this round of negotiations, the PSC negotiators and the CUNY negotiators each, jointly and severally, conducted the negotiations in a manner that disregarded the fact that CUNY and PSC and, most importantly, the individual employees of CUNY, would be involved in a continuing relationship. Whether the tactics and strategies used by the negotiators were appropriate for a relationship termination negotiation is beyond the scope of this blog; but the behavior of the negotiators was certainly most highly inappropriate for negotiating the course of an ongoing and continuing relationship!

And so, it is not only a bad contract that we are being asked to ratify, but a contract that carries the baggage of less than full good faith on the parts of the negotiators on either side. We, the CUNY instructional staff, want and need more than improved salaries and working conditions. We also need some acknowledgment that the proposed contract now before us is not the product of a well-executed negotiation process!

It is, of course, too much to expect that CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein apologize to the PSC membership for CUNY's less than good faith in the negotiations, for we are not really his constituency. But PSC President Barbara Bowen's apparent nonacceptance of her own responsibility for the flawed negotiations is what pushes many of us to vote against accepting the agreement she has brought home to us. An acknowledgement by Barbara of her own failings this time around would have made a world of difference to me when I decided how I would vote on the proposed contract.

What complicates collective labor contracts is that there actually are not two parties involved, but three, namely, the employer, the union, and the employees (who are third-party intended beneficiaries of the contract). And within all but the smallest unions will inevitably arise some diverse factions amongst the membership. This is not necessarily an evil thing, for it can bring out diverse ideas that benefit the membership as a whole.

The test is not whether factionalism develops within a labor union; it is not even how contentious the factionalism grows. The real test is whether and how the union factions, after settling their differences through the democratic process of a union election, recoalesce into a unified organization. And the primary responsibility for making this reunification happen falls upon the leaders of the winning faction.

PSC has recently had an election. Barbara Bowen and her New Caucus slate won all of the seats. Perhaps it still is not too late for Barbara (or, if the Barbara personality is too strident, perhaps some other high ranking officer such as 1st VP Steve London) to reach out to the CUNY Alliance opposition, to put the differences behind (at least until the next election), and to lead the PSC to a better round of negotiations for the next contract.

But because I have not seen any such tendencies on the part of the New Caucus leadership, I voted against the proposed new contract.

Ratification ballots are due by 2 June 2006. We shall see what the result will be.

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