Rutgers workers rally in New Brunswick for contract negotiations

NEW BRUNSWICK – Several hundred Rutgers workers and students rallied in the city Friday calling for “fair contract negotiations,” according to a union.

The workers met prior to Rutgers President Robert Barchi’s state of the university address, calling for fair contract negotiations for faculty, staff and student workers whose contracts expired in June.

They also raised concerns over the public-private partnership between Rutgers and RWJBarnabas Health and called on Barchi to protect “vital public health services.”

The rally comes days after the university announced Barchi agreed to stay on as president for at least two more years at the governing board’s request,which frustrated some faculty union representatives and but also was met with praise from some alumni.

“In the last few days, the president of this university could figure out the politics to get himself an extension of his contract,” said American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, who represents more than 14,000 Rutgers workers, referring to Barchi’s recent two-year contract extension. “We want him to be at least as concerned about the people who actually do the work as he is for himself.”

Rutgers faculty are jointly represented by AFT and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), whose president, Rudy Fichtenbaum, called on Rutgers management to pursue an “agenda of the people, rather than a corporate agenda.”

“Higher education is a public good, but without justice for the people who work here, this enterprise cannot be successful,” Fichtenbaum said in a statement.

According to the university, the negotiations are ongoing.

“President Barchi’s employment terms are open-ended. The Board requested that he remain as university president for a period of at least two years, including this academic year, and President Barchi accepted,” said Dory Devlin, senior director, university news and media relations.

As for the workers’ contracts, “The current collective negotiations agreements continue in effect until new agreements are negotiated,” she said.

The unions had members speak on behalf of their cause.

Justin O’Hea is a mental health worker and member of the Healthcare Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) local at Rutgers, which would be involved with the recently-announced agreement with RWJBarnabas.

“Our institution could be privatized,” O’Hea said, according to a news release. “We provide services to a community of very vulnerable people who could be marginalized so we want to be included in negotiations that could impact our clinical mission. We are concerned about the possible erosion of services we provide so I’m here to bring the issue to Barchi and chancellor (Brian) Strom.”

According to staff Union of Rutgers Administrators (URA-AFT) President Lucye Millerand, “Rutgers is sitting on $800 million in unrestricted reserves that comes from students’ tuition and the work that you and I carry out, our faculty and staff and researchers.”

She called on Barchi to stop funding projects she deemed unnecessary.

“We are here to ask President Barchi to stop spending hundreds of millions on projects that we don’t need and football and put the money into education for our students and decent living and working conditions for faculty, staff and student workers,” Millerand said.

Unions at Rutgers are not just only fighting for fair contacts, they are working on behalf of marginalized communities in and around the university, according to Sudip Bhattacharya, a graduate worker in the Political Science Department.

Graduate workers are among the unionized workers without contracts, according to the release.

“We are fighting for a campus that really represents the people who work here. We are bargaining for people of color, immigrant communities and working people on campus and who come from the community of New Brunswick,” Bhattacharya said.

The unions are calling on Rutgers to play a role in supporting marginalized communities on and off-campus as a part of a broad vision for the university, he said.

Germania Hernadez works for the community organization New Labor in New Brunswick and has been a resident in the city for 15 years, according to the release. She said that the influx of Rutgers students causes housing costs to increase, creating economic hardship for  working families.

“As the largest landlord in New Brunswick, Rutgers has a big responsibility to the whole community. I am here to ask President Barchi: ‘What will you do to make housing more affordable for Rutgers students and long-term residents?’ ” she said.

The rally also highlighted the call for a $15-per-hour minimum wage on campus, hearing testimony from a student worker who recounted a personal financial situation, scarcity of housing and ending with a call to share the university’s resources with the people who maintain the facilities, feed the students and teach the classes.

The rally comes on the heels of the resignation of Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Debasish Dutta after just one year at the helm of Rutgers University’s flagship campus, citing a “clash” with the university’s leadership structure.

Contract negotiations for faculty and staff across all campuses have started, Patrick Nowlan, Rutgers AAUP-AFT executive director, confirmed, “but the university is stalling and failing to address the common good issues the unions have put on the bargaining table including living wages, affordable health insurance and job security.”

Staff Writer Nick Muscavage: 908-243-6615; ngmuscavage@gannettnj.com

Original article at MyCentralJersey.Com