Rutgers profs threaten to strike over ‘shameful behavior’ in contract talks

By Adam Clark

Tired of waiting for a new contract and fed up with an administration they claim is slow-walking negotiations, Rutgers University professors are threatening a strike.

Dozens of professors picketed before Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting in New Brunswick and later blasted President Robert Barchi’s handling of contract talks before the board.

“If we give you the choice that every faculty member walks out or President Barchi walks out, what’s it going to be?” asked David Hughes, vice president of faculty union. “We are worth more than he is.”

The tactics aren’t unusual at Rutgers, and professors have threatened to strike before, only to come to an agreement shortly after. Authorization of a strike is a multi-step process that couldn’t happen imminently, but Thursday’s talk of the s-word escalated what’s becoming an increasingly hostile round of negotiations.

Nicholas Belkin, a Rutgers professor since 1985, called the administration’s behavior in contract talks the worst he’s seen, he told the board.

“By the beginning of the spring, I will propose that the faculty go on strike,” Belkin said. “I will advocate a a strike, and urge my colleagues to vote for a strike.”

Rutgers’ contracts with 24 labor unions expired at the end of last year and the university has struck new deals with five groups so far. In a statement, the university said negotiations are ongoing and any issues will be discussed at the bargaining table.

The average salary for a professor at Rutgers-New Brunswick was $145,458 in in 2016, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education. But salaries differ between departments as well as the Newark and Camden campuses.

Professors have accused Rutgers of delaying contract talks until too close to the end of the old deal and limiting negotiation sessions to a few hours a month. They called an offer of a 1.5 percent salary increase “insulting” and questioned why Barchi was awarded a raise when professors can’t get a new deal.

The university said it scheduled a combined 120 sessions with its staff unions since May 2017 and held 45 sessions with academic unions since March 2018.

Several professors spoke of discontent among the faculty.

“I have heard many professors say, ‘I just can’t take it anymore. I am angry and I am living below the standard that I ever expected I would have as a teacher,’” said Michael McKeon, a professor of literature. “Are they going on strike? I don’t know.”

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