Workers went on strike at all three Rutgers University campuses on April 10th: faculty, grad workers, postdocs, and medical researchers are all part of the work stoppage.
Under the banner of #WeROnStrike, some 9,000 Rutgers staff members are petitioning at the schools’ New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, New Jersey campuses for new labor agreements.
Members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, and the AAUP-BHSNJ say they have been working without a fair contract since June. They are demanding changes like improved job security, access to healthcare coverage for part-time lecturers (PTLs), a 14-week release time for new parents and a child-care subsidy of $5,000 per year, across-the-board salary increases for Camden and Newark campus Arts and Sciences faculty, and more programs to promote diversity and to support faculty working on issues faced by underrepresented students.
The Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union claims in a fact sheet that its members “teach about a third of classes on each campus, including some of the largest core courses in the sciences, humanities, and professional schools” yet “are paid less than a living wage,” “often teach at multiple universities to make ends meet,” “have to be rehired every semester and often don’t know whether their classes will run” and “are not covered by Rutgers health care plans.”
Many of the unions’ proposals for contract changes have so far been rejected by university management. The Associated Press reported on Apr 10th that instead “the university has offered to increase salaries for full-time faculty members, teaching assistants and graduate assistants by 12% by 2025. The university offered an additional 3% lump-sum payment to all the faculty unions that would be paid over the first two years of the new contract.”
The strike at Rutgers, New Jersey’s flagship state university, is a first in the 257-year history of the school. The turmoil caused Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration to join the negotiations so that they could help mediate a resolution. Since Monday, union bargaining teams have been meeting with Rutgers management at the state capital, Trenton.
“We are encouraged by Gov. Murphy’s request and genuinely welcome his leadership,” University Pres. Jonathan Holloway noted in a letter to the school about the situation. “We are hopeful that we can quickly come to a resolution of the remaining outstanding issues.
“The governor also asked me personally to delay taking legal action asking the courts to order strikers back to work. I agreed to the governor’s important request while it appears that progress can be made.
“Obviously,” though Holloway warned, “if there is no movement towards an agreement, we will have no choice but to take legal action to assure the continued academic progress of our students and prevent irreparable harm.”
The Rutgers University webpage claims that, during the strike, the school remains open for business. The website’s top banner states that “The university is open and operating, and classes are proceeding on a normal schedule.”
Meanwhile striking union members are upset about the threats of a court injunction against them. “An open letter signed by more than 1,300 leading scholars and academic workers across the country points out just how disappointing such threats are from a labor and civil rights historian,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT said on April 11th. “Rather than threatening us, we urge President Holloway to demand movement from his negotiators, who have repeatedly said no to our core proposals.”
Holloway, who is Rutgers 21st president, assumed the post on July 1, 2020. According to a report in NJ.com, the new president was awarded a “$1.2 million … compensation package that includes a house, a car and other perks.”
Supporting protestors yelled,“Rutgers is for education, we are not a corporation.”
Union members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Rutgers strike: 94% voted yes for the authorization. But while support for the strike might be real, that does not often mean that workers will show up and take shifts on a picket line. So, to give members other options rather than the standard one of marching back and forth with a picket sign, the unions have been engaging wide interest in their cause by featuring different events during their work stoppage. They have held creative writing and poetry readings, screen printing workshops, and exercise classes. They have hosted live DJ sets and musical performances and conducted drag queen-led marches to bring more interest––and bodies––to the frontlines for their strike effort.As of Amsterdam News press time there was no resolution. Revolting Rutger protestors determined, “RU listening? We are picketing.”