Staffing a major issue
Nearly 5,000 full-time faculty and graduate employees may walk off their jobs if contract negotiations fail at Rutgers University, New Jersey’s major public university system. This March, with 88 percent voting in the affirmative, full-time faculty and graduate employees in a Rutgers faculty union, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike if necessary. It would be the first time faculty and graduate workers have gone on strike at Rutgers.
“We do not want to call a strike unless we absolutely have to,” said Deepa Kumar, president of the union and an associate professor of media studies and Middle Eastern studies, in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We are fighting to defend quality public higher education, and this is not just about the faculty and graduate students. This is about our students.”
The union, which represents 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate employees at Rutgers’ three campuses – New Brunswick, Camden and Newark – has been bargaining for a contract for more than a year. Their old contract expired at the end of June 2018. Adjunct faculty are also represented by the union but under a different contract.
Key issues in this round of contract talks include salary equity by gender and across the three campuses, more diversity in faculty hiring, longer contracts for non-tenure-track faculty, and better faculty-to-student ratios.
New Jersey law does not prohibit strikes or work stoppages by public employees, as the Taylor Law does in New York, but the university administration can petition state courts to issue injunctions to end a strike, according to the union’s website.
The faculty and graduate worker union was offered a 1.5-percent per-year increase, which the union characterized as “insulting,” according to NJ.com.
Rutgers University has contracts with more than 20 labor unions, and has recently reached agreements with six labor unions, which include 3-percent raises in the next three years and a 2.5-percent increase in the final year, according to a report in NorthJersey.com.
“We’re hopeful in the next few weeks the [Rutgers] administration comes back with a constructive proposal,” Kumar told NorthJersey.com. “If not, we will have no choice but to call a strike.”