By Catherine Carrera
The tentative contract agreement reached last week by Rutgers University and its faculty union could trigger ripples of change in future bargaining agreements at colleges across the country.
Not only could it set a precedent for the 17 other labor unions at the university currently in contract negotiations, but it could become a new national standard, a university labor relations expert said.
Unions at higher education institutions from New York to New Mexico shared statements in support of Rutgers AAUP-AFT in the lead-up to its final bargaining session this week, which resulted in a new deal that would incorporate the union’s demands on pay equity and diversity.
“Universities have paid lip service to these priorities for a long time, but they haven’t really lived up to the rhetoric,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers. “I think some of the contract provisions will become a model nationwide.”
Under the new four-year contract, women and faculty from underrepresented communities will be able to obtain pay equity with their male and white counterparts. The same also applies to faculty members on the Newark and Camden campuses, who the union said have been paid at a lower rate than their counterparts in New Brunswick.
Estimating the cost of the pay increases is difficult, because there’s no clear number of faculty members currently affected, said David Hughes, vice president of the union, which represents nearly 5,000 full-time faculty members and graduate student workers.
The process to apply for pay equity, which is stipulated in the contract, will involve looking at objective data and making a claim based on where the data shows a faculty member should be compared with various benchmarks, said Givan, who also serves as treasurer of the union.
Rutgers and the union will track application processes to keep a record of how many people have applied and achieved pay equity.
Tackling pay inequities at the university, though discussed for years, had never been addressed in a contract or enforced by binding agreement, Givan said.
“The new provisions especially around equity and equal pay absolutely set a new standard,” she said. “All of higher education will notice that it’s one thing to say nice things around equity and diversity, and it’s another thing to put it in an enforceable contract.”
More than 10,000 faculty, adjunct faculty, professional staff and librarians from the nine local unions at New Jersey’s public colleges and universities are currently in contract negotiations with the state.
“We’re at the bargaining table right now, so we’re looking at the Rutgers settlement with an eye toward including some of those provisions in our requests across the table,” said Richard Wolfson, president of AFT Local 1904 at Montclair State University. “In one way, it’s a partial road map.”
The higher-education labor unions under the Council of New Jersey State College Locals also support pay parity, Wolfson said.
“It’s nice to have recognition for women, minorities and teaching professionals who are not full-time faculty but have generally been exploited,” Wolfson said of the contract reached at Rutgers. “Just the acknowledgement that these people were underpaid to begin with is significant.”
Unlike with previous contracts, the Rutgers faculty union took a “bargaining for the common good” approach to negotiations that went beyond demanding raises. Unions across the country have started taking this approach, which addresses social justice issues that a broader community can rally around.
“Unionized faculties are really pushing the universities they work for to live up to their values, especially in the case of public universities, where they really need to serve the people of their state,” Givan said.
AFT New Mexico is currently forming a new bargaining unit at the University of New Mexico, which was keeping a close eye on the contract settlement at Rutgers, said Stephanie Ly, the president of AFT New Mexico.
“Our faculty at University of New Mexico are fighting for a lot of the same rights that Rutgers has championed and moved forward,” Ly said. “It was inspiring and really hit home for us.”
Other unions at Rutgers still in negotiations for new contracts have mirrored some of Rutgers AAUP-AFT’s social justice demands.
The part-time lecturer union demands health care.
The union representing biomedical and health sciences faculty demands pay equity and expanded maternity leave.
“We have a proposal for 14 weeks of maternity leave to make sure everyone has equal access and a consistent policy that’s workable for everyone,” said Diomedes Tsitouras, executive director of Rutgers AAUP-BHSNJ.
The biomedical and health sciences union represents about 1,500 doctors, nurses, scientists, and health professionals. The standard number of weeks the female employees get for maternity leave varies from six to 12 weeks, but they want male and female faculty to have access to more, Tsitouras said.
“Quite simply, a strong Rutgers AAUP-AFT contract will set the stage for an equally strong AAUP-BHSNJ contract,” said Roger Johansen, president of the AAUP-BHSNJ.
The biomedical and health sciences union sat in on the Rutgers AAUP-AFT negotiations and jointly coordinated strategy, Johansen said. Others also teamed up with the full-time faculty to do the same, union members have said.
“The other worker unions will be able to look at the contract for the largest group of Rutgers employees and use that to achieve what they need in their contract,” Givan said. “Not only that, other unionized faculty at other colleges nationwide will be using this as an example for their own contract.”