Union officials representing Rutgers faculty on three campuses decided to strike indefinitely Sunday night, beginning Monday morning, after reaching an impasse in contract negotiations with the administration of Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway that have dragged on since July, said Howard Swedloff, deputy faculty union secretary. NorthJersey.com said.
The move will close classes for the first time in the state university’s 256-year history.
Three unions representing academics, researchers and doctors will begin the strike at 9 a.m. Monday, “We are calling for a walkout and refusing to conduct teaching, research and other business as usual at Rutgers,” according to the union’s official email. Leadership was sent to 8,000 faculty members.
About 94% of faculty members from three unions voted last month to authorize a strike, warning the university that they are serious about meeting their goals after negotiations failed to produce substantive counter-proposals to raise graduate workers’ wages and address their main demands. Secure longer contracts with benefits for part-time professors.
Holloway has indicated that she will seek a court order to stop the strike. In a letter to students last week, Holloway said the university had “no choice” but to seek legal recourse to “ensure that any employment action does not affect the academic progress of our students.”
Holloway told the students that public employee strikes were “illegal,” to which shocked faculty members responded by saying it was neither legal nor illegal for public employees to strike. Union leaders sent a message expressing their disappointment that Holloway, a fellow professor, had chosen to “misinform” the community. A strike is illegal only if there is a court order prohibiting the strike.
Mediators from the Public Employment Service joined negotiating teams Saturday in what appeared to be a last-minute move by the Murphy administration, except for an official statement that said “the governor strongly believes in hard-working people.” Rutgers academics deserve to be at the table.”
“The governor, who prides himself on calling himself a champion of labor, has a role here, a role in helping to come up with a fair and just solution,” said Tim Raphael, a professor of arts, culture and the department and a union representative. Media at Rutgers-Newark. “The Rutgers president and the governor are two people who could step in and make an impact — and neither of them did that.”
Further:Rutgers University teachers threaten to close classes and vote to strike
The mediation lasted until midnight Saturday and was scheduled to continue Sunday, said Swerdloff, a part-time lecturer in the writing program on the New Brunswick campus. “Very little has been accomplished,” he said, adding that mediators have broken into small groups to try to speed up the process and resolve issues.
An outraged union leader wrote to faculty members Sunday morning, at a meeting where most university representatives were in their offices or via Zoom, to say he was determined to strike after 12 hours of negotiations with mediators after seeing “administration’s disrespect.” He did not see eye-to-eye in the room with the union members who had come to negotiate.
“I am writing to address the first strike at Rutgers in 35 years and the first strike in the history of this university by all faculty, graduates, postdoctoral fellows, medical researchers, clinicians and EOF advisors,” said the AAUP-AFT general. President Todd Wolfson sent an email Sunday morning to faculty members titled “Shake This University to the Ground.”
He said the university offered graduate workers a pay rise as a final deal in an attempt to avoid a strike “for the first time in 10 months”, but “it’s about exposure”.
“Holloway said in the press that the university allowed their calendar to get a contract, but on Saturday we had 20 people in their offices and they zoomed in on 2 people and a few others,” the email said. “Some important people who needed to make decisions had already made plans for the weekend. We had mediators with us, and we had more than 12 hours of negotiations, but not much, and it was about what seemed obvious.”
The strike halted all classes for the first time in the university’s history at all three campuses in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick, as well as at the university’s medical school.
Negotiations between the union and the university’s top management have reached an impasse, prompting calls for a strike as union leaders say the management is not taking their demands seriously.
What the unions want
Two major Rutgers unions, the AAUP-AFT and the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, have asked for faculty role changes.
Swerdloff, a lecturer in the writing program, said the program has 26 part-time lecturers or adjuncts, and the nearly 150 faculty members in the department are not on the tenure track. Friday “there was a small accommodation,” in which adjuncts with two consecutive years could have received a one-year contract, but the union’s goal is to keep them on par with full-track non-tenure-timers, and the offer was not realistic, he said.
Unions are demanding higher wages for the university’s graduate workers, who often teach classes in exchange for stipends, which at Rutgers are still lower than at other major universities in the tri-state area.
Faculty members voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing the strike a month ago in a secret ballot.
Focus on ‘Most Vulnerable Workers’
“Nobody wants a strike as their first attempt. Strikes are almost always a response to employers’ unwillingness to meet workers’ demands,” said Donna Murch, assistant professor of history at Rutgers-New Brunswick.
“Our union campaign is focused on the most vulnerable workforce, where you have graduate students and tenured faculty who are really struggling to earn a living wage,” Murch said. “This is another example of how out of touch management is.
“They’re not addressing our core demands and are trying to reduce this to a fight for a raise for everyone,” Murch said. “But this is really a trade union fight, it’s about equity and protecting the most vulnerable in the context of a global pandemic and rising living costs.”
Is public sector strike illegal?
Faculty members have criticized Holloway for saying in emails to faculty and undergraduates that public sector strikes are illegal in New Jersey.
“He has, in our opinion, provided factual misinformation, namely that he wrote that public sector strikes are illegal in New Jersey. That’s the way it was said,” Murch said. “So people who participate in them can be fined or arrested and jailed.” What the law actually says is that a strike is illegal only if employers ask for an injunction and the courts allow it.
The union said it hoped there wouldn’t be a court order, but in a public message it asked Holloway to follow former university president Edward Bluestein’s instructions if he went ahead and sought a legal injunction. Bluestein, according to union leaders, did not seek a court order to end the 1987 strike, but instead sought control of picket sites.