Frequently Asked Questions about Strikes by Public Workers in New Jersey
What is a strike?
A strike is a concerted work stoppage or slow down. It might be a refusal to teach classes for a single day or for an indefinite length of time.
A strike can be a powerful way for a union and its members to win a fair contract. However, a strike is always a weapon of last resort. But the results of a successful strike can be profound, as we saw in 2018 with the victorious K-12 teachers’ walkouts from West Virginia to Arizona. Strikes can also be an effective means to advocate for the public good, as in the case of the recent teachers’ strike in Los Angles, where teachers fought for and won reductions in class size. Strikes can also persuade management to address long-standing inequities in pay and working conditions.
Who decides whether we will strike?
The decision to strike must be democratic and shall be authorized, in a secret ballot sent to all Rutgers AAUP-AFT members who are Faculty or Teaching or Graduate Assistants in the bargaining unit concerned, by a majority of those who vote.
What is the point of a strike?
The Union’s consistent message during its many month campaign to win a fair contract is that that we are fighting for quality, affordable public higher education; we are seeking to prioritize teaching, research and service; and we are standing up against the wasteful spending and the misguided priorities of the Barchi administration. A strike vote, and if necessary a strike, will amplify this critical message and will help ensure that faculty and grads receive the respect they deserve. Our grad workers and faculty members deserve to work in an academic environment that respects their right to pay equity, gender and racial equality, academic freedom, and fair treatment – an environment that affords them the opportunity to be excellent teachers and accomplished scholars.
Are public sector strikes against the law in New Jersey?
The State Constitution and the NJ Employer-Employee Relations Act are silent on this issue. There is no State statute that prohibits strikes or work stoppages by public employees, including faculty employed by Rutgers. However, courts in New Jersey have ruled that walkouts by public employees are unlawful.
Although there is no statute that bars strikes, state courts will issue injunctions requiring public employees to end a strike and return to work. The University administration would have to petition a court for an injunction. If a union does not comply with a court order to return to work, the employer can go back to court for an order holding the union in contempt of court. At that point a union could face legal penalties if it fails to comply with an order.
Of note is that in 2018, teachers struck in a number of deep-red states including West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Although, public worker strikes are unlawful in those states, there was no attempt to enforce the law against the many thousands of educators who took part in walkouts last year.
If we vote to authorize a strike, does that mean we must strike?
No. A vote to authorize a strike does not mandate that a strike will occur. A vote to authorize a strike only gives our union officers the ability to call a strike should they choose to do so at some future time.
An overwhelming strike vote would send a powerful message to President Barchi that we support the Union’s bargaining committee and the Union’s reasonable demands for equity, security and dignity. Sending this message to the University President and the Board of Governors will help us make progress on the contract without the need to strike.
Is it illegal to vote to authorize a strike?
No. Strike authorization votes have been held to be protected speech by courts in New Jersey.
What would a strike look like at Rutgers?
If the membership authorizes a strike and if the union leadership determines that a strike is necessary, the AAUP-AFT would likely ask faculty and grads to cancel classes and discontinue departmental service work during the days of a strike. The Union would also ask faculty to cease all non-essential research work to join picket lines.
I don’t have any teaching responsibilities this semester. What would I be asked to do?
Even if you don’t have teaching responsibilities or departmental work on the days of a strike, we would ask you to join your colleagues on picket lines and help support our collective goals.
Could management retaliate against me for going on strike?
We wouldn’t expect it to happen, but there is always risk when taking a job action. The Union will vigorously defend any member who feels they have been retaliated against because of their support for the Union.
I’m concerned about participating in a strike because I am not a US citizen.
The Union will not ask vulnerable faculty and grads to be in harm’s way, particularly faculty and grads who are here on visas. If the Union leadership should call a strike, we will ensure that you are in a position to make a fully informed decision about your level of participation. In addition, the Union will vigorously defend all grads and faculty who either participate in or support a job action.
I’m a graduate employee. Do I need approval of my advisor/PI to support the strike?
You do not need approval as a union member yourself with full and equal union rights. The Union leadership does recognize that graduate employees and others who do not have the job security of tenure are vulnerable and, as with members who are here on visas, the Union will be extremely protective of its most vulnerable members. Should a strike be called as a last resort, the Union will expect broad participation among tenured faculty and others, and will urge tenured faculty members, including PIs, to support graduate assistants and others working in their labs or on research projects.
What about other campus employees? Would they participate too?
Our union is in coalition with nearly all of the 20,000 unionized employees at Rutgers, and meet regularly to collaborate. If our union went on strike, we would ask all employees to honor our picket lines and fully support our efforts, in order to maximize our impact. This includes departmental support staff, parcel delivery, and everything that normally comprises the work flow of our campuses.
Would a strike irreparably harm our students?
No. Strikes are effective because they are disruptive, and disruption inevitably causes short-term inconvenience. But the harm to students from our not striking may be far greater than short-term inconvenience. Rutgers students are getting less and less of their education from full-time tenure-track faculty (down from 45% to 30% of the faculty) and more-and-more from part-time-lecturers (up from 12% to 30%) who are paid so little that many can't spend time with students because they have to work multiple jobs to survive. We are fighting for our students. We are fighting for more tenure-track and TA lines to improve student to faculty ratios, and for affordable public education. Pushing back against the corporate university and defending public education could be an important teachable moment for our students.
What are the risks of a strike?
The Rutgers administration can refuse to pay us and/or take disciplinary action. They could also seek an injunction to prevent us from taking such action. As stated above, we will fight to protect our members using all contractual and other means available to us. Further, we will seek avenues to fund raise to meet the needs of our lowest paid members.