By Whitney Strub, Department Rep (History, Newark), Rutgers AAUP-AFT
The planned focus of today’s session was on Article 10 and Article 11 release language (for settlement of grievances), an Article 22 counter (regarding earned-vacation accrual carryover), and a union response to management’s proposed Appendix H (pertaining to faculty and grad worker suspensions). However, this agenda was disrupted by management’s long-belated delivery of a response to our Article 8 proposal, focusing on salary and compensation. It was not lost on the bargaining team that this arrived after today’s powerful and well-attended rallies in Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark; clearly the administration did not want its low-ball offer included in the speeches, chants, and robust news coverage of the day’s actions.
We had substantive back-and-forth on some technical matters, including the need to accommodate people who move between units and miss out on pay raises; the proper analytical lenses through which to understand pay inequities (including, as Sarah DeGiorgis and Maria Garth noted, the need to use a New Jersey-based living wage benchmark rather than less relevant Big Ten comparison points from lower cost-of-living regions); and also rising health care premiums, which will be discussed separately. Unfortunately, the defining feature of this session was the use of management stalling tactics in the form of a long and unnecessary caucusing break (see below).
Both sides expressed eagerness to move forward on announcing that we have reached agreement on pay equity. Management was also potentially more receptive to discussion of locating caste discrimination under DEI than they had been last month, when Paul O. described their response as disappointing. Becky Givan pushed for a commitment to coverage for abortion and gender-affirming health care in the event of political or legal changes down the road, noting that the current cost of such a pledge would be zero; this wasn’t rejected out of hand and offers a good opportunity for both union and administration at Rutgers to display support for reproductive and transgender rights at a time when both are under attack. “Any costs would be down the road if ever,” she noted. On the matter of management’s deferral of salary increases until 2023 in their new proposals to Article 8, David Cohen said they were flexible.
Management’s austerity-based approach to salary increases—2.25% for fiscal year 2022–23, and 2% in each of the next three years—were extremely unpopular with the bargaining committee and union members who have been briefed on this new development. Yet when we attempted to express this sentiment, management refused to listen. Becky Givan noted that between rising cost of living and rising health care premiums, management’s proposal amounts to a pay cut, not a raise. Todd Wolfson noted that around the nation, workers have been winning larger raises, from 20-plus% for rail workers to 5% for faculty in Oregon. How do you think our members will respond, he asked; why did management hold this for so many months, only to deliver such a paltry offer? “What would you tell our members?” he asked management’s representatives in bargaining.
Sadly, management used these reasonable questions—asked passionately but without any personal invective—as an excuse for overwrought complaints, withdrawing into protracted caucusing because they were supposedly so offended.
After sitting in a breakout room for about a half hour, we finally returned to the table. Asked what their caucusing had produced, management could only say they had reached “the limit of the attacks”—despite there having been no attacks. They used the terms “derogatory,” “threaten,” and “incendiary.” No impartial observer would find these fair characterizations—which might help explain management’s strenuous resistance to having observers at these sessions.
In the very limited time remaining in the session after this unproductive delay, we were able to push back on management’s changes to Appendix H, which would allow for new forms of discipline. When Becky Givan challenged the new “conduct unbecoming” language as overly broad and threatening, management appeared caught off guard, apparently unaware of the chilling disciplinary language they had proposed. Unfortunately, the clock ran out before we could get much further.
Overall, this was a frustrating and disappointing session, in that management seemed unprepared or unwilling to engage with predictable opposition to their meager pay “raises.” We felt that caucusing was used as punishment and a stalling tactic, which was far more disrespectful than any heated questions and a waste of our time. It would be hard to call this bargaining in good faith on their part. Hopefully they will be more receptive to a genuine dialogue after they gauge the show of force we can mobilize on our campuses.
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.