The historic strike by Rutgers University workers is a first for New Jersey’s state college.
Rutgers University workers plan to strike Monday after failing over many months to reach a new contract, a historic moment in the school’s nearly 260-year history.
New Jersey is now part of a nationwide wave that has seen teachers and staff growing increasingly frustrated by their wages and benefits.
Leaders of three unions representing about 9,000 workers voted to strike Sunday night, and it takes effect Monday morning at all three of Rutgers’ major campuses — Camden, Newark and New Brunswick.
“We are not alone,” Todd Wolfson, general vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said in an online meeting after the vote. “The strikes that are happening right here in New Jersey and in other parts of the country right now are building on a historic strike wave in higher education.”
The strike means instruction and non-critical research to “come to a halt” and picket lines will instead go up at the campuses, union leaders said. The strike will see the workers continue working without pay until a settlement is reached.
Rutgers has been in the shadow of a strike since late last year. University faculty and staff from multiple unions had been working without a contract since summer, and they publicly rallied for higher wages and increased benefits while threatening to strike if the school did not “bargain in good faith.”
It was March with its members still without contracts. unions voted to authorize a strike. Sunday night’s vote took that authorization to the next step as negotiations have stalled.
“We take this very seriously,” said Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers’ AAUP-AFT union. “We have bargained and bargained and bargained and bargained and bargained and we’re not getting anywhere, and we need to do something more.”
The three unions — AAUP-AFT, Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union and AAUP-BHSNJ — represent about 9,000 full-time faculty, counselors, part-time faculty and others. New contracts are being sought by more than 6000 other union workers from nine other unions.
Jonathan Holloway, president of Rutgers, stated that it was “deeply disappointing” for the university to be at this point, particularly considering the recent progress made by both sides.
He wrote that “all of us have been hard at work trying solve issues around compensation, benefit, and other terms, conditions, employment” in a message sent to Rutgers students. “Over the last few weeks, negotiations were constant and continuous. As I have observed, significant and substantial progress was made and there are still a few issues. We will negotiate as long as necessary to reach agreements, and we will not engage in personal attacks, misinformation, or other forms of harassment.
Union leaders said they were negotiating for contracts that included not just higher wages but guarantees such as equal pay for equal work for adjunct faculty, affordable housing and forgiveness for students’ overdue fees and fines. Although the two sides made some progress the last few days, they were “far apart on many core issues,” Givan said.
The strike vote is now open a national wave of college labor action. A combination of factors — such as declining enrollment, rising costs and the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic — have propelled a labor movement that reached campuses around the country, including pro-union, Democratic states like New Jersey. Democratic governor. Phil Murphy, who is a strong supporter for unions, had largely avoided the public discourse about Rutgers contract conflicts but advocated that the two sides reach an agreement. He adopted a direct approach on Sunday night.
“Rutgers University is one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning. I am calling the University and union bargaining committees to meet in my office tomorrow to have a productive dialogue,” he said on Twitter.
According to unions, the strike is also historic because it would involve tenured and tenure track faculty at a Big Ten university.