A Message from WCCFT President Jim Werner

Jim Werner

Union and Political Action:
Two Sides of the Same (Budget) Coin

Last month, I was pleased to host a NYSUT-sponsored press conference in the Gateway Center, calling for prioritizing increases in State support of public higher education, especially SUNY’s community colleges (including, of course, WCC). The event was attended by a generous cross-section of local elected officials, including State Senators Shelly Mayer and Pete Harckham, Assemblymembers MaryJane Shimsky and Dana Levenberg, Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, County Legislators Erika Pierce, David Imamura and Vedat Gashi. I was struck by such a strong show of support from both State and County representatives; we clearly have friends in high places!

The people in that room are among our most steadfast allies, and their efforts have made a real impact in our battle for better funding. Last year, we were heartened to see the strongest support for community colleges in recent memory reflected in the State’s 2022-23 enacted budget. This year, the Governor’s proposed allocation for SUNY community colleges in the Executive Budget is a good start ($416.6 million in operational funding), but we need stronger and more sustained increases in order to combat years of chronic State underfunding. Our representatives in the State legislature have been pushing for this, and their one-house budget proposals this year get us closer to where we need to be, if not quite to what NYSUT is asking ($439.3 million). As of this printing, the budget has yet to be finalized, so… the fight continues.

We need the State to continue investing in the top-quality public higher education and services we provide for our students, especially as we continue to feel the impact of the COVID pandemic.

It’s an investment that pays off royally: as researchers like Harvard economist Raj Chetty have shown, SUNY is among the best nationwide in providing a gateway to economic mobility, particularly for first-generation students, for those who struggle to afford post-secondary education, and for those who need vital support services—in other words, the kind of students we routinely serve at the College.

More than anything, we need to increase the State’s investment in what makes public higher education such a powerful engine for social, economic, and intellectual advancement: our faculty—the teaching faculty that inspire and ignite our students’ minds, and the mental health counselors and academic advisors who give our students the guidance and support they need.

First and foremost, we need competitive salaries that will enable us to attract and fairly compensate all faculty, full-time and part-time.

We need to make more full-time tenure-track hires, both teaching and non-teaching; NYSUT is asking for an additional $100 million for that purpose specifically. We also need to improve conditions for our outstanding adjunct faculty—not only better salaries, but things like the ability to accumulate and roll over multiple paid sick/personal days, earned seniority credit for teaching adjuncts who are bumped at the last minute, and compensation for working with students outside of scheduled class times.

While NYSUT and our allies in Albany continue to work toward these goals on the State level, we continue to fight for these and other items in our ongoing contract negotiations, which we anticipate could soon be coming to a close. (Please be on the lookout for communications from me about possible emergency Union Zoom meetings on the contract over the summer—if you haven’t cleaned out your College Outlook mailboxes in a while, now’s the time to do so!)

Finally, keeping in mind the critical importance of support for WCC and public higher education among our elected officials, let me also issue a preliminary “call to arms”: upon our return in the Fall, we will be heading once again into election season for Westchester County! Not only the County Executive office, but also positions on the Board of Legislators will be on the ballot. If we want to see the kind of financial support we need, we need people in elected office—the people who approve our contract!—who understand the value of what we do.

Our Union can (and does) support candidates on the County level, through voluntary member contributions to VOTE COPE, NYSUT’s non-partisan political action arm.

However, according to the latest reports, our contributions to VOTE COPE are down about 14% from our high point in 2020. Out of some 700 Union members, only about 50 participate in VOTE COPE—that means less than 10% of our members are contributing! For only $5 a paycheck, you can help make sure we elect people who support the work we do on behalf of our students. I urge you to go to https://nysut-lp.com/vote-cope/wcc to set up a contribution through automatic payroll deductions today.

With thanks for all you do, and best wishes for a great semester’s end, and summer’s beginning…