By Jim Brown, Camden Chapter President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Management is asking to limit the number of people who observe bargaining sessions, and they have threatened to stop bargaining unless our union imposes those limits. During this session, the union bargaining team listened to management’s concerns, responded to those concerns, and then proceeded with bargaining. The main focus of the session was to get updates on grad funding extensions and to address management’s proposals regarding grievance procedures.
Given the unique nature of this session, it’s worth summarizing what happened at the beginning of the session.
The session began with management only admitting three people representing our union—Becky Givan, Patrick Nowlan, and Steve Weissman—to the zoom call. All others were left in a waiting room. Management declined to make Patrick, our executive director, a Zoom co-host, which he has done for all previous sessions. This has allowed Patrick to help with admitting attendees or muting those who might have forgotten to mute. The Office of University Labor Relations (OULR) asked to have a discussion with the rest of our bargaining committee about demands around the bargaining process. Our representatives refused to name a smaller group to participate in a discussion that excluded anyone who tried to attend bargaining. OULR was asked to explain to everyone attending the session their concerns and the reasoning behind the process proposals, as well as to specify what wasn’t working currently. After a back and forth, management allowed everyone into the Zoom call and went immediately into a caucus.
After returning, management’s representative reiterated that OULR wouldn’t have this discussion in front of a larger group. But they then went on to express those concerns to the full group. They consisted of worries that sessions are being recorded or streamed, that people weren’t displaying their names (all names were displayed throughout the session), and that some people had cameras off. The vague explanation is that these things would impede bargaining. Our team provided responses to each concern and reiterated that bargaining has been working well, that we have a reasonable number of people present, and that the additional attendees are providing factual information that helps move bargaining forward. We pointed out that our union represents many, many job titles from multiple campuses. We also emphasized that those attending these sessions will work under this contract, and that with an inclusive process, our members will understand how our final contract ends up however it does.
After this discussion, we moved forward with the bargaining session, asking questions about grad funding and about management’s proposals regarding grievance procedures.
At the beginning of the session, management insisted that bargaining would not continue if we did not agree to their terms of limiting the number of attendees to 12 for each side, turning cameras on, and listing all attendees on the zoom invite. However, after a discussion of their reasoning and subsequent responses from our team, bargaining did indeed move forward. After this initial discussion, we spent the bulk of the session discussing substantive issues. As with previous sessions, we did the work of bargaining, presenting our proposals and responding to counters. Our team is committed to keeping the bargaining process moving forward, and we succeeded in doing that this week.
Management continues to insist that they want to limit the numbers of people attending bargaining sessions.
During our discussion of grad extensions, management provided no new information. When asked when they would respond to questions that had been submitted via email, they replied that they would respond, but provided no timetable. Our team has a number of questions about how management gathered data about TA/GA funding needs, since management continues to insist that they have accounted for grad workers and their needs. Our union is aware of workers whose needs have not been addressed. When pressed on this, management’s response was “We want to move on.” It is unacceptable for management to “move on” without completely addressing the needs of grad workers who were affected by the pandemic and who now face the possibility of no income, no health care, and not finishing their degree. We have yet to hear from management about how they have addressed the needs of all grad workers.
Our questions about their proposals for grievance procedures also met resistance. This conversation covered a number of questions, but one key issue is that management insists on having our members sign overly general legal release forms when agreeing to any settlement with the university. A number of our members have declined to sign these releases and chosen to pursue arbitration instead. This is bad for everyone, pushing negotiations into a longer and more expensive process rather than allowing for quicker settlements. We have argued that releases should be more targeted and specific to the grievance. Management continues to insist on general releases.
Finally, we are still awaiting management counters on a number of proposals. When our team asked for updates on those counters, we received a vague response that management was still discussing them.
We have another bargaining session on August 30, and our team’s hope is that we can continue what we see as an effective bargaining process. We hope that management will allow that process to continue.
The above is a report from a bargaining session for our next contract. After each session, our union will provide an update, written by a rotating cast of member-observers who are sitting in on negotiations. Click here for a full archive of Bargaining Updates.