By Andrés Morera, Vice President for Postdoctoral Associates, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
This was the fourth bargaining session of 2023. Our previous session took place on February 9th, where Articles 2, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 21, 22, 25, and Appendices E and H were discussed. During this session, we presented proposed changes to the postdoc contract and discussed bridge funding, relief for increased fringe rates, and management’s counters to the BHSNJ Compensation Article. This was a hybrid meeting, with bargaining team members attending in person as well as via Zoom.
We presented our union’s proposed changes to the postdoc contract, including:
- Alignment of contract language with the faculty/graduate worker contract.
- Inclusion of all regularly employed postdocs (e.g. postdoctoral fellows) at Rutgers into the bargaining unit, including all RBHS units.
- Guaranteed initial appointment of two years for any newly appointed postdoc to reduce visa complications for international scholars.
- Provisions for immediate review for placement in a NTT faculty position for any postdocs holding the postdoc title for six years.
- New salary scale with a minimum $69,000 for calendar-year appointments and $60,000 for academic-year appointments, along with yearly increases in accordance with a new payscale that acknowledges experience.
- Increased paid time off, consistent with faculty and grad workers, and broadened criteria for bereavement leave.
Management has yet to formally respond to the postdoc proposals.
We discussed our combined research article, which includes bridge funding, relief for increased fringe rate, and other research support. Management pushed back on the establishment of centralized funds for bridge funding and fringe rate relief, as well as the involvement of faculty in the decision-making surrounding this support. They opposed our proposal to extend the extramural support incentives that apply to BHSNJ faculty to all Rutgers calendar-year faculty.
We discussed management’s counters to the BHSNJ Compensation Article. We proposed compensation for BHSNJ workers that would bring their minimum salaries closer to the national average for workers of their rank. Management instead wants to keep BHSNJ minimum salaries at the 25th percentile of medical school faculty across the nation and allow docking of pay for negative performance evaluations.
Any time management gave an argument against a proposal, we were quick to reply with compelling counter-arguments and solid evidence demonstrating the need for our proposals.
We had a strong showing of postdocs, with the debut of the postdoc union’s bargaining team. This was the first session where postdoc-specific articles were introduced. Postdocs were joined by members of the bargaining committee from all bargaining units, demonstrating to management that all workers stand in solidarity, regardless of unit.
While presenting the postdoc proposals, worker members of the postdoc bargaining team made strong cases in support of each article. They emphasized the arbitrariness of the exclusion of postdoc fellows from the bargaining unit, especially since there is no meaningful difference between work done by fellows and associates or their relationship with their university, supervising faculty, lab, etc. The team also explained how the exclusion of fellows and concomitant loss of benefits introduces a perverse disincentive for postdoc associates to apply for fellowships vital to their career advancement. The member postdocs showed to management how the proposed changes to the appointment and reappointment article, as well as the proposed increases to salary and payscale, would be beneficial to everyone in the long run by not only increasing job security and quality of life of postdocs, but also keeping Rutgers competitive in attracting/retaining postdocs.
Several member faculty gave compelling firsthand accounts about how the university’s insufficient support after the recent increase in state employee fringe rates have affected their labs and research, as well as those of others throughout the university. Together with the rest of the bargaining team, they made clear why our union’s proposed research article is needed, and how it made sense to establish a centralized, jointly governed resource—a bridge fund—to provide support and assistance.
Audio was terrible in the room where we bargained. Those attending via Zoom had trouble hearing what was going on, making communication unnecessarily difficult.
We presented a detailed proposal for bridge funding and relief for fringe rate increases. In response, management maintained that a centralized mechanism for bridge funding/fringe rate relief is not in the interest of the university and faculty. They cited existing “decentralized” mechanisms for distributing bridge funds that supposedly obviate the need for a centralized fund. Faculty on our side pointed out that the bridge/fringe relief funds secured by the few departments that had them were woefully insufficient, which is why a centralized mechanism for such aid makes sense. But there was no explanation from management about how existing support mechanisms would meet the university’s needs.
We made strong arguments for transparency and shared governance with faculty in the administration of bridge funds and fringe rate relief, in order to distribute resources efficiently and equitably. Management countered that any such decision making is traditionally a function of upper management; that our proposals get into areas that are “managerial prerogatives” and therefore “traditionally non-negotiable.” They gave no reason about why these things are exclusively the domain of management or how our proposals would somehow harm the university (or anyone else, for that matter).
There was staunch and nearly unanimous opposition to our proposal for expanding the extramural support incentives.
One of our key proposals in the BHSNJ compensation article is to bring BHSNJ worker salaries to at least the 50th percentile of salary for workers of the same title and rank across the nation. However, management remains adamant that the benchmark should be just the 25th percentile, despite the arguments by our team that this puts the school at a competitive disadvantage to peer institutions and hurts current workers. In addition, the management counter-proposal would also cut salaries if somebody has a negative performance evaluation. Management gave no rationale for their position.
We plan to come back in the near future with an article on solutions for issues facing international postdocs, graduate workers, and others.
We await formal counters to the proposed postdoc articles and the combined research support article.
Overall, management’s responses were vague and signaled little intent on getting anything done in a timely manner. This underscores the need for all of us workers to exert pressure outside of the bargaining room to get management to stop stalling and agree to our demands. If you are reading this and haven’t done so already, please sign the strike pledge!
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.