For immediate release: June 3, 2020
RUTGERS LAYOFFS WILL DEVASTATE MOST VULNERABLE WORKERS; MANAGEMENT IGNORES UNION PLAN TO SAVE JOBS, PROTECT COMMUNITIES
“How Long Can They Keep Making the People with the Least Suffer the Most?” Asks Union President
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers administrators are choosing layoffs concentrated among the most vulnerable campus workers over a people-centered approach to keep the community whole, according to a coalition of 19 campus unions, representing 20,000 faculty, staff, and health-care professionals.
Some 500 staff from dining and custodial services, groundskeeping, maintenance, and public safety (members of AFSCME Local 888 and the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT) have been laid off or will get layoff notices in the coming days, according to administrators. Management also announced a month ago that an additional 620 dining-hall workers (members of Local 888) traditionally on 10-month contracts will lose their guarantee of returning to their jobs this fall. In early April, the university instructed department chairs and deans to lay off one-fifth of adjunct faculty (members of Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT) for the fall.
The worst may be yet to come if management continues down this road. Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, the administration has threatened to lay off up to 60 percent of the staff from dining, maintenance, and other services—disproportionately black and brown people from the communities most affected by COVID.
The unions are calling on management to rescind all layoffs of staff and adjunct faculty immediately. “There’s no excuse for this,” said Todd Wolfson, president of the AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers. “We’re living through a nationwide revolt against racism, poverty, and discrimination, and the administration chooses this moment to fire some of the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers on campus. How long can they keep making the people with the least suffer the most?” (Read Todd Wolfson’s op-ed article at NJ.com.)
The AAUP-AFT statement in support of justice for George Floyd can be read here.
The human cost of these layoffs will be felt throughout the New Jersey/New York metro area, the region of the country hardest hit by the pandemic. Rutgers’ campuses in Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick are in three of the state’s largest cities, in which African Americans and Latinos compose the majority of residents. Firing hundreds of service and maintenance staff, leaving them and their families without health insurance, will have a devastating effect on communities of color in New Jersey.
“Each time Rutgers fires somebody, another family in a community that is already underserved loses its livelihood and its health care,” said Christine O’Connell, president of URA-AFT. “In the Department of Dining, there are multiple couples where both breadwinners work, so this one action will devastate entire families. There are families who have catastrophic illnesses—lives will be put in jeopardy if they lose health insurance. Plus, children of these campus workers rely on tuition remission to attend Rutgers—they won’t be able to continue if their parents are laid off.”
Daniel Duffy, president of AFSCME Local 888, said his members and those in AFSCME Local 1761 and URA-AFT “are the boots on the ground. We’ve been here the whole time through this pandemic. We do all the jobs that no one else wants to do. We’re the ones who make the wheels go round. There’s a lot of people who came here to settle down and make a career out of it. There was job security involved—and benefits. And some of us genuinely like coming to work. I’m one of those people, and that’s why I feel so much for people when they’re told that they no longer have employment.”
As for PTLs, said Amy J. Higer, president of the PTL chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, “we get paid on average $5,500 per course, so the total savings to Rutgers of laying off PTLs barely equals one year’s salary for the head football coach. Meanwhile, hundreds of teachers will lose jobs they rely on to pay their rent, students will be shortchanged, and the remaining faculty will need to fill the gap.” Firing PTLs means larger class sizes at a time when both social distancing and online courses require smaller class sizes. “We need more instructors right now—not fewer,” said Higer. (Read Amy Higer’s op-ed article at NJ.com.)
To add insult to injury, the administration has disregarded a plan developed by the union coalition for work-sharing furloughs through July that would save the university as much as $100 million while fully protecting the incomes of Rutgers employees. “That’s money the university could realize this spring and summer,” said Wolfson, “but they’re throwing it away in favor of layoffs that might, over time, net Rutgers a third that amount—while upending the lives of some of the lowest-paid employees of the university. (Read AAUP-AFT Vice President Rebecca Givan’s op-ed article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.)
Under work-sharing, furloughed employees could replace their lost income with state unemployment benefits, plus the $600-a-week federal unemployment supplement in the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. The savings for Rutgers could help the university weather the crisis without layoffs—but only if it acts now. The federal supplemental payments that make work-sharing viable will expire at the end of July.
Unions made the proposal in mid-May, but as of last Friday, said Wolfson, the administration had no response. “We’ve been telling them the same thing for weeks: the clock is ticking,” he said. “Congress and the New Jersey legislature made work-sharing viable for exactly this reason: to provide a government subsidy so businesses and institutions like Rutgers wouldn’t have to lay off workers. We’ve even done the math for them, but management keeps stalling, and when they do come to the table, they come with no answers, no sense of urgency, and no leadership.”
In return for accepting work-sharing furloughs, the unions are demanding that the administration: promise no layoffs; rescind the layoffs of PTLs; maintain union contracts through 2021; establish hardship funds for international and undocumented students who won’t receive CARES Act support and for the wider community surrounding Rutgers campuses; extend graduate student funding packages for a year; add hazard pay for Rutgers frontline health care workers; provide free COVID-19 testing to all members of the community, regardless of health care coverage; and give students, staff, and faculty a central role in deciding how to meet the challenges ahead.
Even before work-sharing, the administration has plenty of financial resources to confront the COVID crisis without resorting to layoffs. The latest financial data given to unions last week lowers previous estimates of the university’s projected deficit this year by more than 70 percent to around $54 million. Meanwhile, Rutgers has nearly $600 million in its “rainy day” unrestricted reserves—accumulated in part from several years of budget surpluses. The unions want management to commit to spending just half that sum during the crisis.
“Instead of working with students, faculty, and staff to confront this crisis,” said Wolfson. “President Barchi and the administration are choosing the kind of draconian actions we’ve unfortunately come to expect of them. This is a gross insult coming at this historic moment. If management won’t take a look in their mirrors, they might at least listen to the calls for justice coming from around the country. Like the slogan says: ‘Respect our existence or expect our resistance.’”