Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway appears to have poured gasoline on the brewing embers of a potential faculty strike by threatening to have workers commanded back into classrooms or face the possibility of being jailed for violating court orders, after union members voted to escalate job actions in response to ongoing contract negotiations.
Holloway distributed an email updating interested parties about ongoing labor negotiations between faculty unions and the school administration. In that message, he warned that a strike would be illegal in New Jersey.
The American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) were irritated by the email and accused Holloway of misinforming the Rutgers community, including students.
Saying they will not be intimidated, the unions invited members to town hall meeting about their fight for a fair contract on Friday, March 24, at 4 p.m. Anyone interested may click here to register for the Zoom link.
“We will continue to focus our attention on negotiations during the lengthy sessions scheduled each day this week. Again, our goal is to achieve a fair contract without a strike,” said the AAUP-AFT statement.
The faculty unions asserted that no law prohibits public workers in New Jersey from going on strike, and insisted they would resist any legal action taken against the labor organization. The union also revealed that it has established a Strike Fund to support faculty members if Rutgers withholds faculty pay during a potential strike.
The two largest unions at Rutgers University, representing full-time and adjunct faculty, graduate workers, and others, voted to authorize a strike eight months after their contracts expired.
At that time, 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.”
Holloway said the university offered a new contract to the labor unions with salaries that exceed the offer made during the previous negotiation period four years ago.
“It is well-established that strikes by public employees are unlawful in New Jersey,” said Holloway. “We hope that the courts would not have to be called upon to halt to an unlawful strike. No one wants that, nor does anyone want faculty or others to go without pay during an illegal strike.”
Holloway’s warning that an illegal faculty strike could result in legal and financial consequences drew ire from labor negotiators.
“We are disappointed that President Holloway chose to misinform the Rutgers community this afternoon — our students included — instead of joining us at the bargaining table to learn the facts about what we are proposing, as we have repeatedly invited him to do,” said a statement AAUP-AFT sent to its members.
Todd Wolfson, the Vice President of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, explained that if the administration goes to court for an injunction to end a job action, the unions would challenge it.
Todd Wolfson, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said that while a court could issue an injunction requiring employees to return to work, that has only happened a few times in New Jersey’s history.
Wolfson also criticized the salary offer, which is insufficient due to the impact rising inflation rates have had on the cost of living, saying the latest “proposal changes their previous offer by a grand total of 0.75 percent over four years, along with an additional one percent lump sum payment that would not go to our base salary.”
“If President Holloway and his administration go to court for an injunction to end a job action, we will certainly challenge this,” said Wolfson. “If the administration chooses this course, they will be going against the will of thousands of Rutgers educators and employees who voted to authorize a strike if needed to win a fair contract.”
“Our goal is and always has been to bargain a fair contract with the administration so that a strike is unnecessary. But we strongly believe in the right of all workers to withhold their labor in response to unfair and unsafe working conditions. After union members voted to authorize exercising that right, Rutgers responded with anti-labor intimidation tactics,” said the AAUP-AFT statement.
“A work stoppage is always the last resort,” said the AAUP-AFT statement. “But if one happens, the responsibility will lie with the university administration, which for decades has grossly underpaid its adjunct faculty, devastated the libraries through draconian cuts, and damaged our graduate programs by denying graduate workers a livable wage in one of the most expensive regions in the country.” “
“Meanwhile, coaches are lavishly compensated, and Rutgers Athletics has been allowed to run up over a quarter billion dollars in debts to internal and external creditors,” said the AAUP-AFT.
“If President Holloway truly wants to take ‘appropriate steps to mitigate any possible disruptions,’ he should accelerate the pace of bargaining and stop making inadequate counteroffers, such as his latest on salaries that amounts to a wage cut once inflation is taken into account,” said the AAUP-AFT statement.