Wielding colorful signs and a set of drums, demonstrators chanted and attracted the attention of students shuffling through the busy entrance.
Young Seo, a part-time anthropology professor, said faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) haven’t had a pay raise in six years.
“We don’t have a contract,” Seo said. “It’s not just a LaGuardia issue. It affects everyone.”
The protest was organized by the LaGuardia chapter of the Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents more than 1,640 faculty and staff at the community college in Long Island City. Local 384 of DC 37, New York’s largest public employee union, also hosted the afternoon rally.
Lenore McShane, vice president of Local 384 and a staff member who has worked at LaGuardia for 29 years, added that the last pay increase they had was in October 2008.
“Our contracts expired October 31, 2009,” McShane said. “I think it’s time for our contract.”
Both full-time faculty members and adjuncts attended the rally. Lorraine Cohen, chair of the Social Sciences Department, called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to invest more in quality public education and said that faculty members are overworked.
“We are here because we believe it is really not fair, for us or the students, to deny us a raise after six years,” Cohen said. “We see this fight as for quality of education.”
More than half of CUNY’s faculty is made up of adjuncts, according to Rachel Youens, an adjunct professor of humanities.
“We teach core and elective courses semester after semester, year after year, and we have high levels of commitment in developing syllabi and meeting the needs of our students,” Youens said. “And yet year after year, we remain in uncertain and precarious circumstances with no job security.
“Adjuncts need a contract that recognizes our contributions to CUNY,” she added. “We need a contract that gives us respect.”
The rally also brought attention to rising tuition rates for CUNY students. Tuition has increased $1,500 over the last five years.
Faculty members called on Cuomo to reject CUNY’s planned tuition hikes at the demonstration.
“The local community college serves primarily working-class students,” Seo said. “They cannot afford tuition hikes.”
Cohen agreed that students couldn't afford to pay more, adding that, “CUNY is the way poor and working class people get ahead.”
Darren Barany, a non-tenured assistant professor of sociology and a member of the PSC union, said the student fight against tuition hikes and the faculty’s demand for fair contracts are the same struggle. He said many students have supported the cause.
“I have overwhelmingly listened to students and am heartened by the support,” Barany said. “It’s a great boost of confidence, the wind in our sails.”
LaGuardia Community College responded to Wednesday’s rally with a statement that said it stood in solidarity with the PSC’s desire for fair contracts.
“A quality education rests almost wholly on the shoulders of the faculty and staff who teach and support the students,” the statement read. “As Chancellor Milliken has said from the very beginning of his tenure, the greatness of our faculty and staff is among our university’s most critical assets.”
The statement also commended the CUNY Board of Trustees for voting against increases in community college tuition rates for the next year.
“This means that for the over 100,000 CUNY community college students, tuition next year will be the same as this year,” the statement read.