CUNY faculty and staffer union calls on state to clarify college in-person ‘instructors’ eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

FILE PHOTO: Vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn
FILE PHOTO: A staff member at Hamilton Park Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Walgreens Pharmacist Craig Brandt in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Yuki Iwamura/File Photo

A union representing CUNY faculty and staff is asking the state to clarify which in-person college instructors are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s phase 1B of his vaccine rollout plan. 

Amid growing pressure to distribute more COVID-19 vaccines, Governor Cuomo expanded the number of groups eligible to receive the vaccine to include New Yorkers 65 and older, first responders, corrections officers, public transit workers, grocery store workers, child care workers, teachers, and in-person college instructors. 

Under 1B, all full-time and adjunct CUNY faculty members set to work in-person are allowed to receive the vaccine. But union leadership is not sure if this is the case for the hundreds of CUNY staff set to work in the city public university system’s classrooms, dorms, offices, and laboratories. Last fall, about 600 CUNY staffers worked in-person at some point during the semester.

Last week, CUNY Chancellor Felix M. Matos Rodriguez announced students, faculty and staffers will gradually begin to return to mostly in-person classes by the start of the fall 2021 semester making the clarification all the more pressing. 

“The PSC calls on New York State to clarify that ‘instructors’ includes all on-campus instructional staff—professors, lecturers, librarians, registrars, laboratory assistants, counselors, and all other instructional staff members represented by the PSC,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the union the Professional Staff Congress. “Many of these dedicated employees have been working in person, without any option to work remotely, since the pandemic began…They include the professional staff who have been keeping food pantries open for students, those classified as ‘essential workers,’ and those who work on campus, with students, to ensure that students have access to laptops and needed services.”

The push to increase groups eligible to be inoculated against the virus comes after a troubled first month for the vaccine’s rollout with supply falling short of demand. Now, over 7 million New Yorkers are eligible to receive the shot far surpassing the state’s supply of both FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. New York got its first shipment of 170,000 vaccine doses on Dec. 15 and now receives 250,000 doses per week, according to the state website. 

“All college employees—in every rank, title, and union—who are working in person during the pandemic must be classified as 1B for priority access to the vaccine, “said PSC First Vice President Andrea Vasquez, an associate higher education officer at the CUNY Graduate Center. Since the virus reached the city last year, at least 55 CUNY community members including 22 staffers have died because of the virus. “If our CUNY communities are to be deemed safe for any, they must be deemed safe for all. Only in this way can we ensure that there are no more COVID deaths at CUNY.”