Pace professors launch unionization effort

By Sascha Brodsky

Some members of the faculty and staff of Pace University are organizing the school’s first union.

Faculty members said that a union would help get better retirement benefits and a fairer system of merit pay among other issues. The school has been changing its benefit system in an effort to control costs.

“To our knowledge no formal petition has been made on the issue of a faculty or staff union,” said Pace University spokesperson Doug Whiting. “We have been in discussions regarding the subject of merit pay and it remains on the table. We have also made modifications recently regarding benefits but they did not include the elimination of any benefits.”

In recent years, the school has begun increasing the number of professors whom it pays extra for superior work.

“It’s not we are opposed to merit system but we are opposed to merit system that is out of control,” said Roger Salerno, an associate professor of sociology who is involved in the union effort. “We would like to have some say in this.”

Currently, only full-time faculty members have contracts, said Steven Goldleaf, an English professor who is working with Salerno.

“From the faculty standpoint our contracts are negotiated on a individual basis,” Goldleaf said. “But we are not just signing up professors with the union. We are looking to see if the full time and part time, faculty and the staff, can have some kind of structure for their contracts as well.”

The school has recently made changes in the benefits package given to professors, Goldleaf said, adding, “we are getting less than we used to.” The faculty council, a representative organization, of the full time faculty, elects representatives to consult with the university on contract issues. A union would give the council more bargaining power.

Pace is feeling the effects of the weakening economy. Pace charges its 9,000 undergraduates $17,800 a year. Pace’s administration is recommending a 15 percent tuition increase — to $20,540 — for next year’s incoming students.

“At a recent meeting it was raised by one of my colleagues that we needed to broaden our concerns from dollars and cents issues to academic freedom,” Goldleaf added. “We want some sort of meaningful control over what is taught.”

As Pace University has grown, professors have complained that the school administration has gotten harder to negotiate with. Pace has more than 14,000 students, divided among campuses in Lower Manhattan, White Plains, Pleasantville and New Windsor, N.Y.

“I believe there has been consideration of unionization for quite a while,” Salerno said. “As the school has changed pretty dramatically over the years, it has gone from a paternalistic organization to a large corporate institution. Earlier on, the  faculty had great trust in the administrators, but as it has  grown larger there has been some movements to reduce benefits.” 

A recent change in post-retirement health benefits for some of the staff was the trigger for the union organizing.

“It was a seemingly indiscriminate move,” Salerno said of the benefits cut. “We don’t want to just sit by and watch it happen. Our feeling is with collective bargaining, it will require  them  to show us why there is a need to do this, to show us other places [in the budget where the] money might come from.”

Whiting declined to comment on many of the criticisms leveled by the professors.

The effort to organize a union is just getting started. Salerno and Goldleaf began work on the union a few months ago. Union organizers have recently held information sessions and more are planned after the summer vacation. The New York State United Teachers organization is helping to organize a union at Pace.

“There is a great deal more interest than disinterest but it’s been slow going during the summer since there are very few faculty members around,” Goldleaf said.


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