Members of the two unions representing Rutgers University faculty, graduate workers, and others voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if the administration fails to negotiate fair contracts to replace ones that expired over eight months ago.
Some 94 percent of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union members voted “yes” in a 10-day email ballot asking if they would empower union leadership bodies to call a strike if they think one is necessary to achieve the unions’ goals for new labor agreements. Eighty percent of the combined memberships participated.
If one is called, this would be the first strike of Rutgers educators in the university’s 257-year history. The authorization vote came after more than nine months of bargaining produced no agreement on contract proposals the unions made last spring. Union leaders say the Rutgers administration has been dragging its feet in negotiations, not even responding to some proposals and making inadequate counter-proposals on others.
Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors, said a “yes” vote wouldn’t make a work stoppage inevitable, but “the ball is in their court. The administration can decide to keep us in our classrooms, labs, and libraries if they respond with serious offers that meet the urgent needs we’ve identified with our contract proposals. But if they continue to drag their feet, our members are fed up with being disrespected and dismissed.”
A dozen unions representing some 15,000 workers at Rutgers have been without contracts since last summer. Members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union closed their vote on strike authorization today. Another union, AAUP-BHSNJ, which represents medical faculty at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences schools and facilities, began its own strike authorization vote earlier this week. Other Rutgers unions may follow suit.
Union leaders said the administration’s latest proposal on salaries last week only sharpened the anger of members. The offer—for a 2.5 to 3 percent raise each year for four years—amounts to a salary cut after accounting for inflation. In keeping with other contract campaigns in higher education, the unions are seeking significant additional pay increases for graduate workers and adjunct faculty, who make less than a living wage in one of the most expensive regions of the country. But the administration has so far ignored proposals to address these inequities.
Amy Higer, president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, which represents so-called Part-Time Lecturers, said that the administration “relies on adjunct faculty members who teach tens of thousands of students every semester. The fact that Rutgers won’t even discuss our key proposal for job security—which would end the practice of making us reapply for our jobs every semester and provide long-serving adjuncts with multi-year appointments—tells us so much about their priorities. We don’t want to strike. But after eight months without a contract, that might be the only way to get Rutgers to take our demands seriously.”
Liana Katz, vice president for graduate workers in Rutgers AAUP-AFT, pointed out that President Jonathan Holloway said in a recent university-wide email that he supports “fair, reasonable, and responsible” union contracts. “We think it is ‘fair, reasonable, and responsible’ to pay grad workers a living wage and provide them with the support they need to successfully perform their jobs,” Katz said. “The vast majority of our members have told us they are willing to take the difficult step of going on strike to win these demands and so much more.”
Heather Pierce, a Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union Executive Board member, has been part of the union’s bargaining team. ”I’ve dedicated my life to being a good educator and mentor to my amazing Rutgers students, so to sit across the table from management week after week for nine months and have them treat us like we have no value here has been a truly demoralizing and insulting experience,” Pierce said.
Howie Swerdloff, the adjunct union secretary and also part of the bargaining team, echoed Pierce’s point. “I’ve been sitting in negotiations for the past nine months, remembering what President Holloway said about ‘building a new relationship with labor’ and wondering why Rutgers is being so obstinate about even acknowledging the legitimacy of our proposals,” Swerdloff said.
K. Sebastian Leon, an assistant professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies and member of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT Executive Board, stressed that the unions’ proposals are intended for the “common good” of everyone, including students and the communities that surround the campuses.
“Management would like us to view ourselves as compartmentalized and siloed categories of worker ‘types,’” Leon said. “By centering the common good and the local community, we are better able to see the interdependence and shared needs across Rutgers employees, students, and community members. If the administration is committed to a contract that is ‘fair, reasonable, and responsible,’ then they should look no further than our union proposals.”
Negotiations are expected to continue next week with all unions bargaining contracts, during spring break at Rutgers.
You must log in to post a comment.