A possibility of a strike is lingering over the administration of Rutgers University as it tries to negotiate a deal with two unions representing the school’s educators.
Members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union voted Friday to authorize a strike following a 10-day vote. Rutgers AAUP-AFT represents full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors, while the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union represents part-time lecturers.
A strike authorization does not mean that the educators will walk from the classroom. While students are on spring break this week, the two sides will be at the negotiating table.
If the educators strike, it would affect all three campuses – Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick – and be the first faculty strike in the school’s 256-year history.
Todd Wolfson, general vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and an associate professor of media studies, said the unions want to avoid a strike.
“There’s never been a strike of faculty at this university and we do not want to strike,” he said. “We want our students to be educated and we want to be in the classroom. We want to be in our labs. We want to be doing our research.”
Both unions have been working without a contract since July.
Wolfson said their demands are focused on “the most vulnerable workers at the university that we represent.” The unions want adjunct faculty to receive the same pay per class as full-time, non-tenure track faculty members. They also want adjunct members to have longer-term contracts.
The unions are also calling for a living wage for graduate workers; from $30,000 to $37,000 a year. They also want non-tenure full-time faculty to have more job security.
For all of their members, the union is seeking an annual raise of 5%.
Beyond that, they are asking the school to institute a rent freeze on all rental properties, especially in New Brunswick where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,508, according to Rent.com as of March 12.
Wolfson said it would help make housing more affordable for undergraduate and graduate students. He adds the union wants to win the best contract for its members, but will take action if the university “does not get down to hard work and give us the contract that we need.”
“We’re going to give Rutgers a real runway to get to the table and get down to the hard work and really work this out in good faith and really move towards many of our critical demands that make work for the most vulnerable at this university, more dignified,” said Wolfson.
Rutgers, in a statement, said it is hopeful that agreements can be reached as quickly as possible.
“We are committed to working as hard as we possibly can to negotiate contracts with our unions that are fair, reasonable, and responsible,” it said. “We have already held more than 100 bargaining sessions with our faculty and staff unions and will continue to meet in good faith with them until we reach comprehensive agreements on mandatorily negotiable issues, including compensation.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!