By Rebecca Panico
NEWARK, NJ – It’s a tale of three cities in the eyes of a labor union at Rutgers University.
The Rutgers AAUP-AFT says certain full-time tenure-track faculty who teach at the Camden and Newark campuses are paid less than their counterparts in New Brunswick. The union held a rally today on the Newark campus to protest the differences in pay and called for wage increases across at all three locations.
“The administration says we’re one university when it suits them,” said Robert Snyder, the Newark AAUP-AFT chapter president. He added that all of Rutgers becomes “three universities” to the administration only when it’s convenient.
When asked why there were pay differences across all three campuses, a university spokesperson only said that negotiations with the union are still ongoing.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” the university said in a statement. “While the University negotiates successor collective negotiations agreements, the University and its unions are bound by the terms and conditions of employment set forth in the expired contracts until a new labor agreement has been reached between the University and the respective union.”
The Rutgers AAUP-AFT represents about 7,700 full and part-time faculty, graduate assistants, postdocs and counselors across all three campuses. Union members have been working without a contract since July 1, and the pay differences are one sticking point in negotiations with the administration.
Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences on the Newark and Camden campuses earn respectively 10 and 20 percent less than their peers in New Brunswick, according to a study cited by the union that was conducted by economics professor Mark Killingsworth.
The union says those at New Brunswick are paid more because it has long been viewed as the “highly rated” campus among the three and needs to attract the most talented faculty. However, an overabundance of people with doctorate degrees now days means that qualified scholars are taking jobs at universities everywhere, the union says.
Union chapters at all three campuses have been staging rallies in support of each other, said Joe Richard, who organized all three rallies.
“It’s the same organization, so we wanted everyone to be treated fairly everywhere,” Richard said.
The pay differences are just one of the issues the union wants to tackle in negotiations. Right now, graduate assistants’ funding ends before they’re able to complete doctorate degrees, which in many cases are five-year programs.
Nakeefa Garay, a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student in the global urban studies program, said her funding only lasts three years. She makes $26,000 annually and receives benefits, but she’s now in the third year of her program. She may have to find a full-time job, but that would mean less time for research required of her Ph.D.
“It’s hard,” Garay said while protesting at the Newark campus. “I’m at the end of my third year now and I’m kind of like what am I going to do next.”
The union wants the university to extend Equal Opportunity Funds for an additional six years after a student completes their undergraduate degree. The union says this would give minorities a better shot earning higher degrees that are required to become professors.
Students were also among the dozens today at Samuels Plaza who rallied alongside the union. Ricky Castaneda, a junior social work student at Rutgers-Newark, said there should be a tuition freeze so that the university could reevaluate its priorities.
“Our tuition is going up and I don’t see services being reciprocated back,” said Castaneda, who is also the president of the Rutgers-Newark Democrats.
The union also called for automatic yearly cost-of-living raises each year and for a “hardship fund” that supports international students with visa restrictions or immigration issues.
Rutgers-Newark has worked with a nonprofit since 2015 that offers financial aid to undocumented students. That program was recently extended to the New Brunswick campus.