Rutgers union hails ‘historic’ faculty contract, pivots to advocating for part-time lecturers

  • April 17, 2019

New Jersey: Rutgers union hails ‘historic’ faculty contract, pivots to advocating for part-time lecturers   

Via POLITICO PRO, riding high off “historic” gains in the tentative contract agreement reached with Rutgers University’s administration Tuesday night, members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT’s full-time bargaining unit took a moment to bask in their self-declared victory Wednesday before shifting their focus to the continued fight for a fairer contract for part-time lecturers.

“At this moment, I want us to savor what a victory looks like,” faculty union President Deepa Kumar said during a news conference outside the union’s office.

Kumar cited the university’s agreement to close the gender and social or racial wage gap among faculty across the school’s three campuses, declaring that, “Today at Rutgers, we struck a deathblow against that form of injustice.”

The tentative four-year deal, which still needs to be ratified by the bargaining unit’s roughly 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate student workers, would result in equal pay for equal work for women and faculty across the three campuses. Faculty at the Newark and Camden campuses have been earning 10 percent and 20 percent less, respectively than their peers at Rutgers’ flagship campus in New Brunswick, according to the union.

Additionally, the union is claiming credit for a $20 million extension of a diversity hiring initiative university President Robert Barchi announced earlier this month — a priority the union had been pushing.

“It is important for students of color to have faculty that look like them, that create a supportive environment where … students of color can be supported and can move forward and can have ambitions about what they themselves can accomplish,” Kumar said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the tentative agreement “a huge win for students.”

“Their fight will inspire higher education professionals across [the] country to fight and win their own battles to improve their lives — and the lives of others — in the streets and at the bargaining table,” she said in a statement.

Under the agreement, which is retroactive to July 1, 2018, teaching and graduate assistants would receive the biggest raises. As the lowest-paid members of the bargaining unit, these workers, who currently earn about $26,000 per year, would see their salaries increase 4 percent in year one, 6 percent in year two, 3 percent in year three and 2.5 percent in year four. By the fourth year, teaching and graduate assistants would see their pay increased to $30,162 per year, union officials said.

Meanwhile, faculty members would receive a 3 percent raise in each of the first three years, followed by a 2.5 percent raise in the fourth year, union and university officials said. This would be consistent with the raises offered to other university employees with settled contracts.

David Hughes, vice president of the faculty union, estimated the pay increases would cost the university $12 million more per year. Any equity pay increases to address gender or other wage gaps would be on top of that amount.

With an annual surplus of $40 million to $50 million, Hughes said, the university should be able to absorb the cost of the raises without raising student tuition.

A copy of the tentative agreement has not been shared publicly, but union officials said it offers greater job protection and security, including guaranteed protections against sexual harassment and gender and race discrimination, and mandatory lactation spaces for nursing mothers.

The principles of academic freedom would also be extended to apply to what employees say on social media. Last year, a tenured professor at Rutgers, James Livingston, said in a Facebook post that he “hate[s] white people,” The professor said the comment was intended as a satirical commentary on gentrification in Harlem. University administrators initially found Livingston guilty of violating the school’s discrimination and harassment policy, but later reversed the decision.

Graduate student workers and non-tenure track faculty also won greater job security, with the latter getting multi-year contracts of up to seven years. Also, non-tenure track faculty would now be afforded a grievance process, with binding arbitration, if the administration decides not to renew an individual’s appointment to work or decides not to promote the individual, union leaders said.

Despite hailing their successes with the latest tentative contract agreement, Rutgers AAUP-AFT members stressed their work is far from done.

The bargaining unit for part-time lecturers, or adjunct faculty, has yet to settle a contract with the administration, and members of the full-time bargaining unit pledged to stand with them in their pursuit for a fairer deal. According to Rutgers AAUP-AFT, that unit was expected to return to the bargaining table Wednesday.

The nearly 3,000 part-time lecturers employed by Rutgers earn just under $5,200 per course, but the bargaining team wants that increased to $7,250 per course. Part-time lecturers are also demanding that the university cover their health care.

The president of the part-time lecturers’ bargaining unit did not respond to a text message seeking comment, but according to Hughes, part-time lecturers teach 30 percent of the courses at Rutgers, with each course bringing in at least 200 percent in profits to the university through student tuition.

“It is super-exploitation with super profits, and this is something that our union is going to turn around,” Hughes said.

The union called on its members at all three campuses to hold “solidarity” rallies on Wednesday to show support for the part-time lecturers and other university employees who still don’t have contracts yet.

“We are continuing to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis with the remaining unions,” university spokesperson Dory Devlin said in an email Wednesday.

The university has settled contracts with six of the 20-plus unions that represent Rutgers employees. The faculty union contract would be the seventh if members ratify it.

In addition to keeping up the pressure on the administration to settle a contract with the part-time lecturers that union members would consider fair, Rutgers AAUP-AFT leaders said they will continue to advocate for a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, which include students, and for a tuition freeze that would benefit students and their families.

The union attempted to address these issues at the bargaining table, but the administration refused, union officials said.