By Paul O’Keefe, Executive Council, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
This week’s bargaining session had three core themes: Graduate extensions; Article 8, which contains our core economic demands for the new contract; and Article 30, which references the issue of bridge funding.
- There has been some progress on graduate funding, but it is imperative that these issues remain at the forefront of every bargaining session until they are resolved. Names of affected members have been identified; the fundamental stumbling block (from our vantage point) appears to be management’s unwillingness to a) accept the need for a global solution, and b) commit to being the funder of last resort once all departmental or school level resources have been exhausted. Despite some welcome constructive engagement, it seems that management really doesn’t get how much this is damaging graduate student progress. Instead, they insist on the intricacies of process and the desire to take things on a case by case basis. It is imperative that we stay united across our unit in keeping this issue front and center.
- Article 8 contains our salary demands for the next contract. Remember that these demands emerged organically and directly from the extensive survey of all our units, completed late last year and earlier this year. Included in these demands are equity adjustments for arts and sciences faculty in Camden and Newark and a proposal for a living wage for graduate workers. Both demands speak directly to questions of spatial justice. A commitment to change the culture and discourse of the Rutgers ecosystem to make it more inclusive of Camden and Newark must be backed up with the material support necessary to move us all toward a more equitable future across and within our campuses. And graduate students are seeing nearby peers finally get genuine increases that approach the real cost of living in this area; it’s high time our members received the same.
- Article 30 was presented by a Traveling Wilburys-like supergroup comprising tenured faculty, PIs, and postdocs across our unit, plus our biomedical faculty sibling unit. They described the human toll of the mismatch between grant funding cycles and lab funding needs and the really grueling cost this has on some of the more vulnerable members of our unit, who lose income and health care. Frankly, the university seems to be shooting itself in the foot. Again, management’s intransigence with regard to providing bridge funding, being the funder of last resort, or even acknowledging the human toll of their decisions was striking. This case was made specifically around the impact that the pandemic has had on unavoidably in-person lab work, but the issues this raises are undeniably global. Resolution of this seems vital to ensuring Rutgers remains a center of world-leading research.
This was a fascinating set of negotiations to observe. Our team had clearly been on the training pitch late at night, preparing. Three different topics, all powerfully presented. Graduate student leadership began the session with unresolved, urgent issues. Camden faculty kicked off the presentation of our economic demands, and grad members presented the case for a living wage, comparing it to our neighbor institutions. Bridge funding was powerfully presented. Onwards!
P.S. I hope everyone listens to the “From the Table” episodes of the RU Listening? podcast for further discussion of this. I joined some other members this week, including Jim Brown and Andrés Morera, who both spoke powerfully at the session.