Rutgers University faculty go on strike

After several months without a contract and no signs of movement between professors and administrators, a strike has been called for all three campuses.

A red banner and a building with a red

The Camden campus of Rutgers University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The faculty at Rutgers University has never gone on strike in its more than 250 year history, until now.

Union leaders for three of the 12 unions called for a strike Sunday night.

Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers, the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, and AAUP-Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey, represent more than 9,000 educators, researchers, and clinicians at all three Rutgers campuses. That’s more than half of the university’s more than 15,000 unionized workforce. Members previously voted to authorize the strike if the two sides could not agree on a new contract.

“We have bargained, and bargained, and bargained, and bargained, and bargained and we’re not getting anywhere and we need to do something more,” said Rebecca Givan, Rutgers AAUP-AFT president, during a virtual  all member town hall announcing the labor action.

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Among the items the unions are seeking include equal pay for work performed by adjunct faculty, guaranteed funding, and a living wage for graduate workers. Job security for all faculty, affordable health insurance, and workload standards for medical clinical faculty are also on the list of demands.

It’s not yet clear what other immediate impacts the strike will have on university operations.

Gov. Phil Murphy, minutes after the announcement was made, called for the two sides to meet with him in his office Monday.

“The world-class educators, students, and staff of Rutgers University have my word that these parties will negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair for all parties,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.

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Rutgers AAUP-AFT represents full-time faculty while the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union represents part-time lecturers. AAUP-BHSNJ represents the faculty in Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Clinicians in that union will continue to care for patients and perform critical research work but will curtail voluntary work.

Members of the unions representing the full- and part-time faculty voted to authorize a strike in March. Leaders were hoping to avert a strike. However, things remained at a standstill between the administration and the unions.

Administrators were described as “obstinate” and “uncaring,” by Bryan Sacks, vice president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, who said university leaders were “simply not interested in achieving a contract.”

“Spending so much time in their presence made it perfectly clear to me that they were not interested in recognizing the contingent of faculty, grad workers, post docs, community members, and students [who] were at the center of this campaign,” he added.

The strike affects all three Rutgers campuses in Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark. Negotiations have been taking place for several months between the administration and the unions.

It comes after some union members held a protest during an event the administration was holding at the Cook Student Center in New Brunswick. The listening session would have featured the university’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Gower discussing finances and taking questions from the audience. But the protest prompted the event to get called off.

The university has said it was “fully prepared” to go to court to prevent a strike from happening. But the union stipulates that there is no state statute that would prevent a strike by public employees.

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said it would be “an understatement” to say the strike is “deeply disappointing,” citing that both sides agreed to include a mediator.

“We have all been hard at work trying to resolve issues around compensation, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment,” he said in a message to students and staff. “For the past several weeks, negotiations have been constant and continuous.”

Holloway said the university offered “enhanced compensation programs” that would raise full-time faculty pay by 12% by July 2025 and a 3% lump-sum payment to all faculty unions over the first two years of the new contract, among other concessions.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Disclaimer: Rutgers University is a WHYY underwriter.

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