At discussion about university finances, Rutgers union workers demand raises and new contract

The demonstration adds another page to the stalemate between union workers and Rutgers administration.

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Faculty and staff hold picket signs on the Camden campus of Rutgers University.

File photo: Faculty and staff picket outside the Rutgers-Camden Campus Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Several people holding signs stood outside of the Cook Student Center where Rutgers University officials were getting ready to begin the third of five “listening tour” events. Some were banging on the windows as remarks were being made.

The topic was “university finance and administration.”

The faint chants of the crowd outside could be heard as the program started.

Protesters are visible through the windows of a meeting room.
Protesters standing outside of the Cook Student Center at Rutgers University New Brunswick. They are members of unions negotiating new contracts with the university’s administration. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway was set to interview the university’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Gower. But as Gower began to speak, a member of the audience, who said they were a member of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, stood up.

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“We are about to go on strike because we are exploited,” they announced to the room.

People hold picket signs in front of the campus center.
Faculty and staff picket outside the Rutgers-Camden Campus Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Seconds later, the protesters standing outside of the room were allowed in, chanting, “Hey there Gower what do ya say? Rutgers needs a raise today!”

Administration officials called off the event a few minutes later. Conway, Gower, and others left the room but protesters remained for a little while longer.

No one was arrested.

Wednesday’s demonstration is the latest chapter in a months-long negotiation between New Jersey’s flagship university and the five unions that have been trying to secure a new contract.

Protesters march with signs.
Protesters marching outside of the Cook Student Center at Rutgers University New Brunswick ahead of an event to discuss the university’s finances on March 29, 2023. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Nothing appears to have shifted at the bargaining table since members of Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union voted to authorize a strike earlier this month.

“It’s not as if we’re not amenable to a bargaining solution, but there has to be a real solution that honors what we think we deserve and the principles of equity that we’ve put forth,” said Andy Urban, vice president of the New Brunswick chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

A red banner and a building with a red "R" emblazoned on its side are visible.
The Camden campus of Rutgers University. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Prior to protesting the administration’s event, the unions held a rally and news conference outside of the student center. They made it clear they are running out of patience with the administration.

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Amy Higer has been a part-time lecturer at Rutgers for 23 years and is president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union. She said the university can afford what the union is asking for, but “it just keeps making bad choices and choosing to value non-academic parts of the university.”

“Rutgers has never been healthier financially than it is right now,” she said. “This is the time to treat us fairly, to reorder priorities at the university.”

Five unions representing more than 15,000 workers across Rutgers’ three campuses are in negotiations with the administration, including:

  • Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) represents full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors.
  • Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union represents part-time lecturers.
  •  AAUP-Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey (AAUP-BHSNJ) represents physicians, researchers, and health sciences faculty.
  • Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT (URA) represents administrative staff.
  • Committee of Interns and Residents-SEIU (CIR) represents resident physicians.

A university spokesman said it remains committed to “working as hard as we possibly can to negotiate contracts with our unions that are fair, reasonable, and responsible.”

“We are in intensive negotiating sessions with our unions and continue to make offers and respond to counter offers in good faith,” said Kevin Lorincz, communications director. “Our fervent aim is to reach agreements with all of our unions so there is no disruption to our students’ academic progress.”

Lorincz adds the university is “fully prepared” to go to court to make sure students’ academic progress “is not impeded by an unlawful strike.”

The faculty has not formed a picket line in the university’s history. Higer said that the unions want to keep it that way “but it may come to that.”

“We are here for our students. We will support our students,” she said “But our students deserve teachers who are paid a fair wage and have job security.”

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