Rutgers students and faculty participate in a strike

Rutgers students and faculty participate in a strike at the university's main campus on April 10, 2023 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Thousands of Rutgers Faculty on Strike to Demand 'Transformative' Contract for Underpaid Teachers

"Our picket lines have been and will continue to be a peaceful, nonviolent expression of our determination to make a better Rutgers for our students and workers," said three unions representing faculty and graduate students.

Three unions representing faculty members and graduate student workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey on Tuesday rejected the school president's accusation that their strike, now in its second day following nearly a year of contract negotiations, is disrespectful of Rutgers students.

"Let's be clear: Our picket lines have been and will continue to be a peaceful, nonviolent expression of our determination to make a better Rutgers for our students and workers," said the unions, whose members overwhelmingly voted last month to go on strike.

The work stoppage was announced Sunday and includes about 9,000 union members at the public university, who are represented by Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (Rutgers AAUP-AFT), Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, and AAUP-Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey (BHSNJ).

The unions represent full-time faculty, adjunct lecturers, and the faculty of the university's medical, dental, nursing, and public health schools.

The workers have been negotiating with the school since last July and are calling for changes including a 20% pay increase over four years for full-time professors, a minimum salary of $37,150 for graduate workers, guaranteed funding for teaching assistants and graduate students, an increase of new parents' "release time" to 14 weeks, and equal pay for equal work for adjunct instructors, who they say should be paid and eligible for benefits equal to those given to nontenure track faculty.

"We intend for this new contract to be transformative, especially for our lowest-paid and most vulnerable members," Rebecca Givan, the president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, toldThe New York Times.

According to the unions, the university has agreed to only a 3% yearly raise followed by smaller pay increases in subsequent years and has "rejected all substantial proposals" regarding funding for graduate students, adjunct teacher pay, job security, and other changes to workers' contracts.

The university's "net unrestricted assets" have skyrocketed in recent years, the unions have said, reaching $818.6 million during the coronavirus pandemic. Union faculty members and their supporters on campus have used the hashtag #RutgersHasTheMoney on social media to build awareness of the school's failure to meet their demands for fair compensation.

One graduate student, Michelle Ling, told the Times that she earns $30,000 per year and that many graduate students struggle to make ends meet.

"A lot of the grads that I know here are on food stamps," she told the newspaper. "A lot of grads I know have secret part-time jobs they don't report to the university because they have to—they have families, they have responsibilities."

Students joined union members in solidarity on Monday and Tuesday as the workers began the work stoppage, with picketers chanting, "No contract, no peace!" and "Together, unite, Rutgers on strike!" at the university's three campuses.

Michael Reagan, who teaches at Rutgers' School of Management and Labor Relations, reported on Twitter that construction workers on the school's New Brunswick campus were stopping work on a project in solidarity with the strike.

In Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway's email to the school community Monday night, he threatened to seek an injunction in court to force the faculty to return to work, claiming strikes by public sector workers are illegal in New Jersey.

While state courts have issued injunctions to stop public sector walkouts before, "there is no state statute that prohibits strikes or work stoppages by public employees, including faculty employed by Rutgers," said the unions. "New Jersey public employees have gone on strike at least 36 times in the past 30 years."

"Rather than threatening us, we urge President Holloway to demand movement from his negotiators, who have repeatedly said no to our core proposals," said the unions.

Union representatives were in Trenton on Tuesday, following an invitation from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to the unions and university officials to negotiate in the state capital.

"We are in Trenton today and are bargaining in good faith there, as we have for nearly a year—with the hope that Gov. Murphy will influence the Holloway administration to finally take bargaining seriously," the unions said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was among the lawmakers who voiced support for the graduate students and faculty members as the strike began Monday.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), whose district includes Rutgers, joined union members on the picket line Monday.

"The [university] administration calls me all the time to try to get more grants and funding for more research," Pallone told the Times. "But I always say if that is going to be the case, we need to make sure that the graduate students who are doing the research, teaching the classes, they have to have a fair wage too."

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