During campus protest, Rutgers faculty threaten to strike

By Catherine Carrera

Rutgers University faculty members and graduate workers who protested on the Newark campus Tuesday had a sharp message to the university’s board of governors: Classes will shut down if they don’t agree on a new contract soon.

A strike at the New Brunswick, Newark and Camden campuses before the end of the spring 2019 semester would affect nearly 70,000 students enrolled at the university.

But despite how large a disruption it would cause, full-time faculty and teaching assistants are ready to declare a strike after more than a year of negotiations have failed to yield a new contract.

“It’s a final warning — contract or strike,” said Deepa Kumar, the president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union that represents both faculty and graduate student workers. She said the union was asking the board of governors to pressure Rutgers President Robert Barchi to “do the right thing and give us a fair contract. Otherwise we will have no choice but to go on strike.”

Dozens of union members and supporters picketed for three hours Tuesday outside the Paul Robeson Campus Center on the Rutgers-Newark campus, where the governing board met for the last time this semester.

Contracts for 26 labor unions at the university ended last July. Six unions have reached new agreements with the university, with 3 percent raises in each of the next three years and a 2.5 percent raise in the final year. A university spokesperson wouldn’t comment on specifics about the negotiations with Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

“We are continuing to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis with the remaining unions,” university spokeswoman Dory Devlin said. “All issues related to employee contracts will be discussed at the negotiating table with the appropriate bargaining team representatives from the administration and the unions.”

Full-time faculty, grad students, and adjunct professors rally for the Rutgers Board of Governors to meet their contract demands, which include equal pay, higher salaries, and more full-time faculty hires, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Newark.

A strike has been looming over bargaining meetings since the union voted to authorize one in March. More bargaining sessions were scheduled for Wednesday and Monday. If a strike is called, it will be the first in Rutgers’ 252-year history.

Full-time faculty, grad students, and adjunct professors rally for the Rutgers Board of Governors to meet their contract demands, which include equal pay, higher salaries, and more full-time faculty hires, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Newark. (Photo: Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com)

Sen. Cory Booker tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he supports the union’s demands for pay equity.

Educators at every level of our education system deserve better. I support the Rutgers AAUP-AFT in this fight for equality & dignity. Rutgers faculty are on the front lines every day for their students—we should all be united in the movement to support them.

“In the North Jersey and New York area we live in, the wages we have are not enough to live on,” said Soili Smith, a graduate worker. “Our job is full time — we’re doing research, grading papers, teaching classes — whether the administration realizes that or not. ”

The union also wants pay equity across gender, race and campuses.

According to research done by the union, faculty members on the New Brunswick campus are paid at a higher rate than their peers at Camden and Newark. Female faculty members on each campus also get paid at a lower rate than their male peers with the same years of experience, the union’s data shows.

“I’ve been at the Rutgers Law School for 21 years, and in 21 years there’s only been one time that I received a promotion and raise,” said Mayra Caraballo, a support services staffer.

Full-time faculty, grad students, and adjunct professors rally for the Rutgers Board of Governors to meet their contract demands, which include equal pay, higher salaries, and more full-time faculty hires, on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Newark.

Carabello is not a union member but was on her lunch break during the rally. She assists 55 law professors in her department, and as a staff member she would support the professors at the law school who strike, she said.

“I know firsthand that the campuses are not equal — New Brunswick gets most of the funding, and the people in Newark get left behind,” Carabello said.

The union demanded that the university dedicate $15 million to facilitate hiring faculty from underrepresented communities. Last week, Barchi, the president, announced he would add $20 million to his efforts in diversity hiring. Though the university said the announcement was a result of the university’s mission, the union felt strongly that it was a win for them.

During the Tuesday governing board meeting, union members with picket signs began to chant “shame” as Barchi handed out a resolution to members of the athletics department in recognition of student wrestler Nick Suriano, who brought Rutgers its first national title last month.

The union members and supporters feel the university has prioritized the athletics department over education. Rutgers AAUP-AFT wants more funding for increased full-time faculty hiring.

“It’s time for parity across all three campuses — parity in the treatment of faculty, parity in the treatment of students,” Carolyne White, a professor at Rutgers-Newark, said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “We need your leadership now to ensure equitable education for all of Rutgers students.”

This story originally appeared at North Jersey News here.