No Rutgers strike: Faculty union reaches last-minute deal with university

By Kelly Heyboer

Rutgers University averted what would have been the first strike by professors in the school’s nearly 253 -year history by reaching a last-minute deal late Tuesday with the faculty union in a series of marathon negotiating sessions.

The state university and the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate workers, announced the deal for a new contract. The agreement still needs to be approved by the full union.

“We made history today,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT president Deepa Kumar said in a statement. “For the first time in the union’s nearly 50-year history, we won equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses. We won significant pay raises for our lowest paid members, our graduate employees who will see their pay increase from $25,969 to $30,162 over the course of the contract.”

A press conference is planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday on the New Brunswick campus, where more details about the deal are expected to be announced.

“I can confirm there is a settlement and we will be issuing a joint statement tomorrow,” said Dory Devlin, a Rutgers spokeswoman.

Kumar said university and union officials came to an agreement on several other issues, including calls for more diversity in hiring at Rutgers and protections for professors who make controversial statements on Twitter and Facebook.

“In other historic firsts, the union won $20 million for diversity hiring and a guarantee of a workplace free of harassment and stalking, enforced with binding arbitration,” Kumar added. “Academic freedom now applies to social media.”

David Hughes, the union’s vice president, said the new contract includes more protection for graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty, who will be eligible for contracts up to seven years.

“Furthermore, in this climate of insecurity for immigrants, the union worked hard to revise the university’s ‘no-green card’ policy, Rutgers may now sponsor (non-tenure-track) faculty for permanent residency,” said Hughes, who headed the union’s bargaining team.

The settlement came after several days of lengthy negotiating sessions that included mediators brought in to help the two sides agree on raises and other issues that had left them deadlocked for months, union officials said.

About 88 percent of Rutgers faculty union members voted last month to authorize union leaders to call a historic strike, if necessary. The union had already printed “Strike” signs and begun training faculty on how to walk picket lines.

Professors and other faculty would have cancelled classes and stopped all research on the New Brunswick-Piscataway, Newark and Camden campuses if a strike was called. They also would have asked part-time adjunct professors, who are not in their bargaining unit, to honor picket lines and not teach classes.

It is unclear how a strike would have affected finals, graduation and the end of the spring semester for Rutgers’ nearly 70,900 undergraduate and graduate students. The university did not announce any contingency plans.

Rutgers’ top professors are among the best paid public university faculty in the nation. The average salary for a full-time professor at Rutgers-New Brunswick was $145,458 in 2016, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But full professors are a small part of Rutgers faculty, union officials said.

Assistant and associate professors can earn far less and Rutgers’ Newark and Camden campuses also average less than their counterparts in New Brunswick, union officials said. About 1,000 of the union’s members have full-time salaries starting at $60,000 a year, according to the union’s data.

Though the faculty union deal is settled, Rutgers still need to reach contracts with several other unions, including its 3,000 part-time adjunct lecturers who teach many of the university’s classes.

The faculty union called on students, professors and staff to join them for “solidarity” rallies Wednesday at: 11:20am at the Walt Whitman statue on the Camden campus; 2:30 p.m. on the steps of the student center in Newark; and 4 p.m. on the new Paul Robeson Plaza on College Avenue in New Brunswick.

This story originally appeared on NJ.com here.