Rutgers faculty, staff, students, and supporters on strike in New Brunswick on April 10, 2023. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
One month after the start of an unprecedented strike that halted classes at New Jersey’s largest university for five days, unions that represent 9,000 educators, researchers, clinicians, and librarians at Rutgers University voted Monday to ratify new contracts.
Three unions bargained together to negotiate five four-year contracts that 93% of voting union members altogether approved, with the percentage of “yes” votes ranging from 92% of full-time faculty and graduate workers to 100% of counselors, according to Rutgers’ chapter of American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers.
“This is a new moment for higher ed labor around the country,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT general vice president Todd Wolfson said in a statement. “Other unions representing graduate workers and faculty organized, struck, and won strong contracts, inspiring us to fight for more. And now we’ve contributed to the largest strike wave in the history of public higher education.”
The ratifications come as more than 6,000 Rutgers administrative staff and other non-faculty employees represented by nine other unions continue working without contracts.
Rutgers spokeswoman Dory Devlin said Monday that university administrators “are looking forward to resolving all outstanding non-faculty contracts as quickly as possible.”
A historic strike
The faculty strike — the first in the university’s 257-year history — emptied classrooms and filled streets with sign-waving, slogan-shouting picketers for five days starting on April 10, impacting 67,000 students in the crucial weeks running up to graduation and summer break.
Educators who walked off the job demanded a wide range of things, largely focused on higher wages, better benefits, job security, and more equity between faculty from different demographics, campuses, and experiences.
“This vote is the culmination of months of intense efforts by so many people who walked the picket lines and organized with their colleagues,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT president Rebecca Givan said in a statement. “Because of this commitment by our members, we made major gains in these contracts, especially for the most vulnerable and lowest-paid of the people we represent. We didn’t win everything we wanted. But what we did achieve is a testament to all of us, and we’re proud of it.”
University administrators were “pleased” faculty ratified the contracts, which include salary increases for full-time faculty, graduate assistants, teaching assistants, part-time lecturers, and medical school faculty, Devlin said.
Contract provisions were retroactive, meaning staff will be paid for raises dating back to July 1, when their last contract ended, she added.
When the strike started, Gov. Phil Murphy called both sides to the Statehouse in Trenton for talks. Then, he pledged to use state funds to resolve matters if needed.
At an unrelated legislative budget hearing on higher education spending Monday morning in Trenton, lawmakers asked Rutgers President Josh Holloway about that.
Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) said taxpayers and “folks outside the fray” have asked him: “What is this going to cost us?”
“This is a big issue. In fairness to them — I know the governor thinks it’s his money, but it’s their money,” Scharfenberger added. “And we really have to make sure that we have an answer for them that would be accurate and an answer to their concerns.”
But Holloway declined to talk numbers.
“There are ballpark figures, but I think it would be irresponsible of me to quote a literal number when things weren’t ratified,” he said. “We still have to get the actual numbers with our CFO … I don’t have that answer right now.”
Rutgers AAUP-AFT officials, though, said Murphy pledged $600,000 a year to fund a social justice initiative the unions proposed to benefit marginalized Rutgers students and communities around Rutgers’ campuses. The unions wanted $1 million from Rutgers, and Rutgers initially pledged $250,000 — but then yanked support after the state stepped up, fund supporters said.
It’s unclear if Murphy committed anything beyond the $600,000 to end the labor dispute. His spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Devlin declined to address details of the initiative, saying only that Rutgers “has strengthened its commitment to financially help students in need in recent years and will continue to build on a robust program to aid students in need.”
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