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Rutgers University faculty, staff threaten strike over pay

*News Update*

Rutgers University, Rutgers AAUP-AFT union, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy reached a ‘framework’ agreement to end the strike on April 15. The framework, according to Rutgers, “provides fair and equitable wages, benefits, and work conditions for our faculty as well as our graduate students and part-time lecturers.” No other details on the agreement were released to the public. Classes have resumed on Rutgers’s campuses on April 17.

Faculty and staff at Rutgers University are the latest public union to follow the example of University of California graduate workers by threatening to strike over pay and other demands.

Rutgers University faculty and staff join the ranks of universities such as the University of California, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Temple University in striking.

The university’s Association of American University Professors (AAUP)-American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union demanded concessions such as a “fair salary increase” to keep up with inflation, providing a “living wage” for graduate workers, changing to a $15-an-hour minimum wage for campus workers, and “pay parity” for adjunct faculty. The AAUP-AFT’s long list of demands is, as follows:

  • Job security, which includes “longer contracts for faculty without tenure,” “improved promotion process,” “presumptively renewable contracts,” “multiyear contracts and a path to full-time employment for adjuncts,”
  • “Race, gender, and campus equity,” such as “salary equity across campuses,” “equitable salary minimums,” “increased support for caregivers,” empowering a committee to hold university administration “accountable” for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives,
  • “Guaranteed graduate funding and support” demands like a “living wage” for teaching and graduate assistants, “extra year of funding” for graduate students who enrolled during the pandemic, and five years of guaranteed funding,
  • More control over teaching, research, and service, such as enforceable rights to academic freedom and a safe workplace, and requiring negotiations over changing work requirements in case of short-staffing,
  • Merging faculty bargaining units into one unit, following adjunct faculty demands on pay parity, job security and health insurance, and agreeing to end “union-busting” while paving a path to tenure and longer appointments for biomedical faculty,
  • Housing justice for all students, staff, faculty, or residents, in addition to ending the practice of withholding transcripts for outstanding student debt and placing polling places on campus.

The union blamed New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for adopting divisive tactics, despite the governor’s public profile as a “loyal ally to organized labor.” A spokesperson for Murphy, Christi Peace, said that the governor “continued to reiterate his support for Rutgers University employees and call for open dialogue between the labor union and university officials” and that he is a “staunch defender of organized labor.”

AAUP-AFT President Rebecca Given said the governor should capitalize on the “moment for a win-win negotiation and an opportunity for a collaborative approach.” But Givens said that Murphy is going to “try to squash the unions.”

However, ongoing negotiations “are primarily between the union and school administration” and do not directly involve Murphy’s office.

Meanwhile, Rutgers University spokesperson Dory Devlin noted that Rutgers has held 100 negotiating sessions and that the university will not give up on meetings “in hopes of reaching agreements that are fair, reasonable, and realistic.”

So far, at least 1,500 Rutgers faculty, graduate workers, and post-doctoral workers signed a pledge to go on strike. The union represents at least 6,600 workers at the university’s three campuses across the state and, like the recent strikes at other universities, could disrupt or postpone classes and research for an indefinite period of time.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.