NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers students, faculty, graduate workers, and staff will come together on Friday, September 23, at 12 noon for a joint rally to call on the university to commit to pursuing climate justice and negotiating fair contracts for Rutgers’ 19,000 union employees.
The rally will take place outside Alexander Library (169 College Ave., New Brunswick), before President Jonathan Holloway’s annual “State of the University” address to the University Senate at 1:10 p.m. Rally organizers say union members and student activists will talk about “the real state of the university”—and what changes are needed to achieve a better Rutgers.
The largest unions at Rutgers have been without a contract since previous agreements expired on June 30. Union leaders say the Rutgers administration has dragged its feet in addressing their main demands and is putting obstacles in the way of even meeting for bargaining.
The rally is being organized in conjunction with student-led mobilizations for climate justice the same day: an 11 a.m. rally in New Brunswick’s Monument Square (318 George St.) calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to block proposed new fossil-fuel projects and a 1 p.m. march from campus to US Rep. Frank Pallone’s office (67 Church St.) and New Brunswick City Hall (78 Bayard St.) to emphasize calls for environmental reform at the local and federal levels.
“Our different organizations and unions all chose this day to send a message to the Rutgers administration and to political officeholders, so we’re working together to support each other,” said Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors. “Students have been organizing for climate justice measures, and they need to be heard. The contracts for our unions at Rutgers expired nearly three months ago—we need the administration to act on our proposals with the same urgency we feel.”
Below is further information on some of the main themes of the rally.
Adjunct Faculty Need Equal Pay for Equal Work
Adjunct faculty members—who are known at Rutgers as Part-Time Lecturers—teach around one-third of the undergraduate courses at the university, and their work is anything but part time. Yet these crucial educators aren’t paid a livable wage for their work, they have no guarantee they will keep their classes from semester to semester, and they don’t even have access to health insurance, like other union employees.
Members of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union have united around three critical demands for their new contract: equal pay for equal work with full-time faculty; job security, including multiyear contracts and a path to full-time employment; and the same access to health insurance as other Rutgers educators.
“We know the financial state of the university is strong, but the Rutgers administration isn’t responding to the proposals unions have put forward to meet the urgent needs of the people who make our university work,” said Amy Higer, president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union. “Rutgers chooses to pay its 2,700 adjunct faculty members—who teach tens of thousands of students every semester—less than a living wage. Rutgers has the money. Why does it continue to deny completely reasonable demands, like equal pay for equal work?”
A Living Wage and Guaranteed Funding for Graduate Workers
The graduate workers who serve as teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and grad fellows are also demanding a livable wage in their next contract. The minimum salary for a teaching or grad assistant is currently $30,162 a year—far below a living wage in the tri-state area. Nearby universities recently raised grad worker salaries to as much as $40,000 a year. Rutgers grads say they want the same.
In addition, they are calling on the administration to guarantee five years of funding across the university—and commit to a centralized program for additional funding for grads whose research and work was delayed by the COVID pandemic. Grad workers organized throughout the spring and summer to bring attention to those who had to give up years of work because Rutgers didn’t guarantee a funding extension. But the administration still hasn’t acted.
“Graduate student workers are essential to so much that happens at Rutgers, from teaching classes to conducting research to mentoring undergraduates,” said Liana Katz, vice president for graduate workers in Rutgers AAUP-AFT. “At the same time, we are not given the financial support that we need from the university, including stable funding that reflects a living wage. It’s time for Rutgers to start paying graduate students, and all workers, fairly.”
Last week, grad workers presented President Holloway with a letter signed by more than 200 faculty members, including current and former graduate program directors, that called on the administration to meet grad demands as critical to “the well-being of all students and workers, and to the fulfillment of our university’s mission to conduct ‘innovative research that contributes to the medical, environmental, social, and cultural well-being of the state.’”
Taking Back Control over Teaching and Research Conditions
Among the many contract demands being put forward by Rutgers AAUP-AFT and other unions are measures to regain control over teaching, research, and working conditions. According to Todd Wolfson, general vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, top administrators have invested for years in expensive software and systems that don’t work as advertised and add to the headaches for faculty, staff, and students.
“Thanks to a scheduling system called Infosilem, on Wednesdays this semester, I teach an evening class that doesn’t end until 10:30 p.m.—and I have a one-hour-plus commute after that,” Wolfson said. “Students don’t learn well when they’re that tired. These robots that are supposed to make our jobs easier are making them much harder and taking us away from our main mission: teaching students, conducting research, and performing service.”
Wolfson said the union is calling for procedures to reestablish faculty and staff input and governance—“so the people who make the university work have some control over that work,” he said.
Organizing for Safe and Healthy Workplaces
The administrative staff who keep departments and programs running at Rutgers faced many challenges when the COVID pandemic struck, campuses shut down, and teaching and work went remote. Staff were also among the victims when the administration laid off well over 1,000 union workers in 2020 and early 2021, claiming a “fiscal emergency.”
Now, however, Rutgers is in its strongest financial shape ever, and members of the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT (URA) want management to recognize their sacrifices and the need for a safe and healthy workplace.
“Staff are an integral part of the ‘beloved community’ that President Holloway touts,” said URA President Christine O’Connell. “We continue to provide exemplary service to all students, faculty, and our communities by working under an expired contract, but the president’s words ring hollow when our work isn’t valued with a fair contract.”
“Our proposals include language to help Rutgers implement its Climate Task Force recommendations to reduce our collective carbon footprint and create healthier environments across Rutgers campuses,” O’Connell said. “Working with different organizations and unions, we want to prioritize what staff need to feel beloved: strong wages, affordable health care, and creative telework opportunities made available to all.
Students Take Action for Climate Justice
Rutgers students are planning actions on both ends of the 12 noon “We R the University” rally. At 11 a.m., they will gather with environmental organizations at Monument Square in downtown New Brunswick (318 George St.) to call on Gov. Phil Murphy to block proposals for seven major fossil fuel projects on the table in New Jersey. After the campus rally ends at 1 p.m., students will lead a march to US Rep. Frank Pallone’s office (67 Church St.) and New Brunswick City Hall (78 Bayard St.).
At the campus speakout in front of Alexander Library, RU Progressive President Alexandria Haris said students will call on the Rutgers administration to commit to more and better bike lanes on Rutgers campuses, a sped-up bus electrification program and ban on new diesel buses, an Office of Climate Action with more power and funding, and adequate solar paneling on all possible campus buildings, parking lots, and newly constructed buildings.
“We need to continue advocating for sincere and equitable climate action and for the university and our host city to fulfill their social, moral, and environmental responsibilities,” said Alexandria Haris, president of RU Progressive. “Students are paying a lot more attention to what the university is choosing to do and choosing not to do in response to climate change, and we are making it known. As the phrase goes, ‘There is no Planet B.’”
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