By Catherine Carrera
If the Rutgers University faculty union decides to call a strike after Monday’s marathon bargaining session with the university for a new contract, union members are ready: Official picket signs have been printed, picket line captains trained, and students prepared to provide support.
“We’re seeing this swing, where Rutgers is becoming less of an institution based around learning and more of a business,” Veenay Komaragiri, a junior and a member of the Rutgers Students in Solidarity committee, said Monday. The student group has been working out of the union office of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.
“I felt it was important for me to join this movement, because there’s never been a more robust time to support professors and bring the school back to its original watchword of equity and fairness,” Komaragiri said.
Rutgers AAUP-AFT and the university bargaining teams have met several times over the last few weeks to reach a new agreement. Union leaders have been given the OK from their members to call a strike if they deem it necessary. It would be the first faculty strike in the school’s 253-year history.
Negotiations continued all day Monday. As of 5 p.m., the union had not called a strike, but a new contract agreement was not announced.
The union comprising more than 4,800 faculty and graduate workers wants the university to meet its demands on pay equity, hiring more full-time faculty and raising the pay for graduate and teaching assistants, who receive on average $26,000. They’re also asking for a $15 minimum wage for student workers.
Before Monday’s negotiating sessions, the union had signs printed that read: “Rutgers STRIKE! Fighting for quality education for all.”
Since the union voting members authorized their leaders in March to call a strike, nearly 100 faculty members and graduate workers have trained as picket captains, those who would serve as the union’s front-line organizers during a strike, said Deepa Kumar, the union president.
Certain buildings on the Rutgers campuses have also been designated as official picket areas, Kumar said.
Students on the committee and other instructors who aren’t among the 4,800 full-time faculty members and graduate students in the union have said they’re prepared to join a strike if it’s called.
Other unions, including the one representing part-time lecturers, have confirmed that they “are eager to stand in solidarity with us,” Kumar said in an email Monday.
Students from the committee delivered care packages to the union and university bargaining teams on Monday, providing energy drinks, snacks and motivational notes that read “make us proud” and “we are looking out for you and up to you.”
“That was to send a message to the administration that the students are in support of the union,” Komaragiri said. “We are not apathetic — we support our professors.”
He added: “A lot of students are excited, in big part because of how historic the nature of the strike would be.”
There was an “RU Ready 2 Strike?” informational planned for Monday night at the Livingston Campus Center to educate students on the reasons the faculty might strike and how it would affect students, said an Instagram post by the committee.
“Coaches are making millions — that doesn’t add up to me and how I feel my tuition should be used,” said Leah Hunt, another member of the student committee.