By LINH TAT
The bargaining unit representing full-time faculty and graduate employees at Rutgers University has its members’ blessing to call a strike if contract negotiations aren’t successful, union leaders said Tuesday.
Eighty-eight percent of its members voted to authorize union leaders to call a strike, the group said. Should that occur, it would be the first strike by faculty and graduate employees in Rutgers’ 253-year history — and the first for tenured faculty at a Big 10 school, according to the labor organization.
The American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers at Rutgers’ represents 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate workers.
David Hughes, vice-president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and the bargaining committee chair, said in an interview the union aims to restore public higher education in New Jersey by advocating for improved faculty-student ratios and tuition freezes for students, but the administration has refused to bargain on those issues, he said.
“Faculty are not eager to strike. We recognize and want to minimize any disruption to Rutgers students,” Hughes said. “However, even if we have to strike, the benefits for higher education and students at Rutgers will be much greater than the short-term cancellation of any classes.
“We are convinced that this administration is so misguided … that a strike is both necessary and a good investment in the future,” he said.
Dory Devlin, a spokesperson for Rutgers, said in a statement the parties have met 33 times since last March and that two more meetings are scheduled for this month.
“The parties are making progress and the University continues to negotiate in good faith,” she said.
Besides seeking to improve the ratio of full-time faculty to students, the union is demanding equal pay for female faculty and salary increases for teaching assistants, who earn $26,000 per year and haven’t had a raise since 2013, according to union President Deepa Kumar.
The group is also fighting to protect librarians from having their positions eliminated due to proposed budgetary cuts.
Rutgers employs 2,110 tenure-track faculty members — nearly the same number as it did in 1998 — yet the number of undergraduate students has soared nearly 40 percent, from 35,705 to 49,861 students, according to the union.
The union began negotiating a new labor agreement a year ago. Its contract expired in June 2018.
In the meantime, the university’s administration has settled contracts with or are in the process of ratifying labor agreements with roughly a quarter of Rutgers’ unionized workforce, Devlin said.
Six labor groups now have contracts, which generally include 3 percent raises for each of the next three years, plus a 2.5 percent raise in year four, Devlin said. The university also has a tentative agreement with a seventh union, which is in the process of taking a ratification vote, she said.
A full list of the faculty union’s priorities are available here.