By Catherine Carrera
An overwhelming majority of Rutgers University faculty members voted to authorize their union leaders to use a strike as a bargaining tool in contract negotiations as they fight for gender pay equity, more full-time faculty hires and a higher salary for teaching assistants, among other proposals.
It was the first time in at least 15 years that the Rutgers AAUP-AFT took such a vote, and it moves the union of nearly 5,000 full-time faculty and teaching assistants closer to a strike. If the union decides to strike, it would be the first faculty strike in Rutgers history, union members said.
“We don’t want to go on strike, and we don’t want to disrupt our students’ education. The only reason we would is because the harm done to them by not striking is greater than if we did go on strike,” said union President Deepa Kumar, an associate professor of journalism and media studies.
Rutgers union members picketed before a Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 6, 2018. The members have been working without a contract since June 30 and demand fair contract negotiations.
Rutgers union members picketed before a Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 6, 2018. The members have been working without a contract since June 30 and demand fair contract negotiations. (Photo: Catherine Carrera/NorthJersey.com)
“This is not about salary. It’s really about equality for women, equity among the three campuses, more full-time faculty for our students and fighting to increase the base pay of our lowest-paid graduate teaching assistants,” Kumar said.
According to research done by the union, faculty on the New Brunswick campus are paid at a higher rate than their peers at Camden and Newark. Female faculty members on each campus get paid at a lower rate than their male peers with the same years of experience, Kumar said.
Teaching assistants are paid $26,000 per year and haven’t received a raise since 2013, according to a statement from the union.
About 88 percent of union members voted to authorize the union leaders to call for a strike if they deem it necessary during remaining negotiations.
Rutgers University spokeswoman Dory Devlin said the university has met with Rutgers AAUP-AFT 33 times in the past year. Two more meetings are scheduled through the end of March.
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“The parties are making progress,” Devlin said. “We are continuing to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis with the remaining unions.”
Contracts for 24 labor unions at Rutgers expired in July, but negotiations have been ongoing since last March.
Six labor unions have reached agreements with the university, which include 3 percent raises in each of the next three years and a 2.5 percent increase in the final year, Devlin said.
Rutgers has also reached a tentative agreement with one more staff union, which is in the ratification process, she said.
“We’re hopeful in the next few weeks the Barchi administration comes back with a constructive proposal, if not we will have no choice but to call a strike,” Kumar said, referring to university President Robert Barchi.