Last Updated: March 13, 2023
Click on any of these questions to go to the answer below.
- What is a strike?
- Who decides whether we will strike?
- What is the point of a strike?
- Are public-sector strikes against the law in New Jersey?
- Will we be paid during a strike?
- What work at Rutgers would a strike stop?
- What work is permitted during the strike?
- How does a strike work?
- Could management retaliate against me for going on strike?
- I’m concerned about participating in a strike because I am not a US citizen or am on a visa.
- I’m a graduate employee or a postdoc. Do I need approval of my advisor or PI to support the strike?
- What about other campus employees? Would they participate too?
- Would a strike harm our students?
- What are the risks of a strike?
- How will we win?
- How is a strike called/concluded?
What is a strike?
A strike is a concerted work stoppage or slowdown. It might be a refusal to teach classes and perform other work for a predetermined number of days or for an indefinite length of time.
A strike is a powerful way for a union and its members to win a fair contract, especially when management is refusing to take bargaining seriously. The results of a successful strike can be profound, as we have seen recently with the strike at the University of Illinois-Chicago. 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 will be democratic and shall be authorized by secret ballots sent to all Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union members who are Faculty, Teaching and Graduate Assistants, Postdocs, and Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) Counselors in the bargaining unit concerned. A majority is needed to authorize a strike.
What is the point of a strike?
Put simply, to show management and the public that the university cannot function without our labor and to demonstrate that our teaching, research, administrative work, and service are essential to Rutgers’ basic ability to operate. The Union’s consistent message, since our last contract expired on June 30, 2022, has been that we are fighting for quality, affordable public higher education; that we are seeking to prioritize teaching, research, and service; that we are seeking wage increases that keep up with inflation and cost-of-living increases; and, that we are standing up against the wasteful spending and misguided priorities of the Holloway administration and its hollow “beloved community” rhetoric.
We will fight for contractual guarantees that put a halt to the exploitation of adjunct and graduate labor and that will return governance over working conditions—such as teaching schedules—to faculty and department-level administrators. A strike vote, and, if necessary, a strike, will be to support these goals. We all deserve to work in an academic environment that respects our right to pay equity, gender and racial equality, fair wage increases, and fair treatment—an environment that affords us the opportunity to be excellent teachers and accomplished scholars.
Are public-sector strikes against the law in New Jersey?
The state constitution and the New Jersey 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. NJ public employees have gone on strike at least 36 times in the past 30 years. Although there is no state statute that bars strikes, in some instances, courts in New Jersey have issued injunctions against walkouts by public employees, unlike recent campus worker strikes in California and Illinois.
An injunction may require 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 from 2018–19, teachers struck in conservatively governed 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 those years. We have strength in numbers.
Will we be paid during a strike?
In general, universities have not withheld pay during higher ed strikes. They have a hard time understanding which individuals are or are not striking, and we wouldn’t help them figure that out.
If the administration does try to dock our pay, our unions are preparing a Strike Fund to support members. Information on accessing the Strike Fund will be released to all members after the start of a strike.
What work at Rutgers would a strike stop?
- Teaching a Rutgers course in a classroom, lab, or other space, on Zoom or asynchronously online.
- Issuing tests, exams, or other assignments for the purpose of assessment .
- Grading or submitting grades through REGIS and/or Canvas, and using Canvas or any other Rutgers software for any reason beyond communicating with students about the status of the strike.
- Teaching another instructor’s course or grading their students’ assignments.
- Holding events or conferences on campus or off-campus Rutgers events.
- Holding office hours online or in person.
- Attending meetings related to Rutgers’ administrative work, teaching, and official duties.
- Filing Rutgers reports and completing university compliance and professional training requirements.
If there are questions about specific cases, members can email the union at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for guidance. Our union would ask members to cease all non-essential research work so that they can join picket lines. As higher ed workers, the measure of our power lies in our capacity to mobilize our numbers to collectively and visibly withhold our labor to win a good contract.
What work is permitted during the strike?
Even if you don’t have teaching responsibilities or departmental work during a strike, we ask that you join your colleagues on picket lines and help support our collective goals. Nonetheless, we recognize that stopping certain work will primarily hurt individual members and students, which is not our goal. Accordingly, the following work is acceptable if there is an urgent deadline, although you should refrain from non-essential labor during the strike whenever possible:
- Conducting essential lab research.
- Writing, submitting, or editing a research article, dissertation, or thesis.
- Writing letters of recommendation for students or co-workers.
- Writing and filing essential reports with non-Rutgers institutions.
- Signing off on hiring forms or raises for grad workers, postdocs, faculty, and staff.
- Fulfilling duties and obligations to non-Rutgers professional organizations.
- Providing health care to patients or legal services to clients.
- Attending conferences that members have already committed to participating in (members attending conferences during a strike will be asked to share a prepared statement to other conference participants and to donate to the strike fund).
How does a strike work?
Being on strike is a full-time job!
Everyone is working together to achieve a better contract and to get back to work as soon as possible. The more all members are involved, the more we commit fully to the strike, the shorter the strike will be. It is important to note that when one is on strike, one is working full time on the picket line and helping with preparations and support for the pickets in order to make the strike as successful as possible. We all care very deeply about the quality of education here at Rutgers, and our decision to withhold our labor from teaching and non-essential research and service work is not something anyone takes for granted. By showing up on the line, we are redirecting our labor to the strike to ensure that we have the best chance of winning a contract that will protect us and our students in the long run.
Picketing rules of conduct
- Walk in a single file and keep moving.
- Be sincere, professional, and cheerful.
- Dress neatly and wear comfortable shoes.
- Prepare for all kinds of weather.
- Use cell phones to photograph unusual incidents.
- Physically block entrances, exits, and driveways.
- Walk quickly.
- Become violent or abusive.
Time on the picket lines is a place to come together. Chants, songs, and games are all ways that picketers can enjoy each other’s company and fill the day. We highly encourage musicians of all skill levels to bring their instruments to the picket line. We welcome you to organize other picket-line activities; ideas might include dog days (bring your picket pup!), kids’ activities during after-school hours, and more.
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. Our solidarity in action can be our best defense.
I’m concerned about participating in a strike because I am not a US citizen or am on a visa.
Every person in the United States, including any international scholar, has the right to join, organize, and support a union under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association. This includes activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, and other forms of free association and expression. Retaliation against a person by an employer for joining or organizing a union is illegal.
Our union will not ask vulnerable faculty and grads to be in harm’s way, particularly faculty, postdocs, and grad workers who are here on visas. If our union leadership should call a strike, we will ensure that you are able to make a fully informed decision about your level of participation. In addition, our union will vigorously defend all grads, postdocs, and faculty who either participate in or support a strike.
I’m a graduate employee or a postdoc. Do I need approval of my advisor or PI to support the strike?
As a union member yourself with full and equal union rights, you do not need approval to strike. However we recognize that graduate employees and others who do not have the job security of tenure are vulnerable. As with members who are here on visas, the union will be extremely protective of its most vulnerable members. If you are a graduate worker and are concerned about retaliation from your advisor or PI, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Should a strike be called, we expect broad participation among tenured faculty and others in our Coalition of Rutgers Unions and will urge tenured faculty members to support graduate workers.
Please note that essential lab work and work related to your dissertation is still permitted during a strike.
What about other campus employees? Would they participate too?
Our union is part of the Coalition of Rutgers Unions, which includes nearly all of the 20,000 unionized employees at Rutgers and meets regularly to collaborate. We will 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 workflow of our campuses.
Would a strike 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. Many students are organizing already to support our contract demands because they know that our demands are for the good of our entire community. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We are fighting to end precarity among instructors of all ranks, which means that students will benefit. Pushing back against the corporate university and defending public education is an important teachable moment for our students. If you would like a student-facing powerpoint slide to add to your lectures please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the risks of a strike?
The Rutgers administration can refuse to pay us for the days we’re on strike. They could also seek an injunction to prevent us from taking such action. To counteract this, we will launch a Strike Fund after the start of the strike. As always, we will fight to protect our members using all contractual and other means available to us. We encourage you to review possible strike-breaking tactics that the administration may use:
Strike-breaking tactics—what to expect:
- Threats of reprisals, such as discharge; non-reappointment; cancellation of health insurance or promotion; and loss of summer work, leaves, sabbaticals, or favors.
- Requiring employees to certify that they are working or on strike—these requests from management should be ignored.
- Lies to the effect that a “group” is going back to work tomorrow.
- Slander against Union leaders and against the integrity of the Union itself.
- Slander against fellow strikers aimed at causing dissension.
- Charges of violence on the part of strikers.
- Defeatism to the effect that the strike cannot be won, is failing, or isn’t worth the effort.
- False and misleading accounts in the press or on radio, TV, or the Internet that are aimed at undermining the strikers’ determination and/or attempting to raise false hopes that might begin a back-to-work movement that has not been authorized by a vote of the general membership.
- Offering extra pay to one group to “scab” or substitute for striking workers, such as offering extra pay to adjunct instructors to cover for striking faculty or teaching assistants–do not do this because it undermines the strength of the strike.
How will we win?
A successful strike at Rutgers would win our key bargaining demands for equal pay for equal work, a living wage for grad workers, campus equity, and more. The goal of a strike is to shut down all three campuses of the state university of New Jersey to make our demands known. Our demands are achievable, but we need to show management that we are willing to shut down the university—that’s how important they are.
How is a strike called or concluded?
There are five stages to a potential strike at Rutgers: 1) a strike authorization vote by dues-paying members; 2) a stoppage of work; 3) a tentative agreement on the union contract between our union Bargaining Committee and Rutgers management; 4) a ratification vote to approve or reject the contract by dues-paying members; and 5) a return to work and celebration. Here are more details of those stages:
- Strike Authorization Vote (SAV): In our locals, this decision is made by a vote of the dues-paying membership through a secret ballot. It is important for every dues-paying member to cast a vote, as high turnout is essential to demonstrate union power. If the strike authorization vote passes, the leadership bodies of the respective unions are empowered to call a strike or delegate this authority to their Bargaining Committees (please note that the AAUP-AFT Executive Council is still finalizing its precise protocol for calling a strike, should one be necessary). The strike authorization vote and the notification of Intent to Strike do not initiate a strike or make a strike inevitable. They are both steps to demonstrate that we as a union are fully prepared to take this step and to let the Rutgers administration know that as well. Leadership bodies will work closely with the Bargaining Committees to determine if and when to call the strike. The strike is a:
- Stoppage of Work: This is the actual strike itself, in which course instruction and non-essential job duties must cease in order for the strike to be effective—as detailed elsewhere here. The strike’s power will then produce a:
- Tentative Agreement (TA): The next iteration of the union contract which both the union’s Bargaining Committee and management-side negotiators have voted to approve. This can often happen quite quickly and as a product of round-the-clock negotiations. The TA is subject to the membership’s:
- Ratification: The dues-paying members then vote yes or no on the TA to approve or reject the contract, with a majority vote threshold. If the contract is approved, it goes into effect, retroactive to July 1, 2022. If it is rejected, the two bargaining teams return to the table until another TA is reached and the membership votes again. A possible strike concludes with a:
- Return to work and celebration: Union members will now return to work and back to their job duties, including teaching, researching, and service work. Note that the EC and BC may ask members to return to work before ratification is completed. We will also celebrate what we win together.