After more than a year of tense negotiations and the unprecedented threat of a strike, close to 5,000 full-time faculty and graduate employees at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, won a tentative contract agreement late Tuesday night. But even as they celebrate, the fight is far from over for the nearly 3,000 part-time lecturers who are continuing to bargain and await a separate contract.
The details of the contract agreement have yet to be released and it must also be approved by the full union, but according to Deepa Kumar, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT union, “we made history.” The faculty union had been bargaining for pay raises, race and gender equity, job security, and increased diversity since March 2018 and just last week members of the AAUP-AFT announced they were prepared to strike for the first time in the university’s 253-year history.
It was their threat to strike, Kumar said in a previous interview with NJ Spotlight, that drove Rutgers’ decision to add $20 million in additional funding for its “Faculty Diversity Hiring Initiative” earlier this month.
“For the first time in the union’s nearly 50-year history, we won equal pay for equal work for female faculty, faculty of color, and for faculty in the Newark and Camden campuses,” Kumar said in a written statement. “We won significant pay raises for our lowest paid members, our graduate employees who will see their pay increase from $25,969 to $30,162 over the course of the contract.”
Going into negotiations, faculty at the university’s Newark and Camden campuses earned, on average, 90 percent and 80 percent of the salaries of their colleagues at New Brunswick, respectively. Union research of salaries in the 2016-2017 academic year also found significant wage gaps between male and female faculty. When academic rank was taken into account —whether someone was an associate professor assistant professor or had another such title —female faculty members earned on average $3,280 less than their male colleagues.
Pay parity, a big issue
This contract, Kumar said, would create parity across the campuses and between the genders.
David Hughes, vice president of the AAUP-AFT and chair of its bargaining team, also noted that the union won greater job security for graduate employees and non-tenure track (NTT) faculty.
“NTT faculty will enjoy multi-year contracts for terms up to seven years,” Hughes said in a statement. He added that “for the first time ever,” the union would have a grievance procedure for NTTs secured with a “binding arbitration” clause. “Furthermore, in this climate of insecurity for immigrants, the union worked hard to revise the University’s ‘no-green card’ policy, Rutgers may now sponsor NTT faculty for permanent residency.”
Though union members are celebrating what they call an historic win, their PTL colleagues are continuing to bargain for a separate contract that they hope includes fairer salaries and improved healthcare coverage. Hughes noted that the full-time faculty union “will continue to do everything in our collective ability to help win significant raises and health care for our adjunct colleagues, starting immediately.”
Several sticking points in PTL negotiations
Sources close to the PTL bargaining process told NJ Spotlight that negotiations were not nearly as close to a conclusion as for the full-time faculty. These contingent faculty — who make up 70 percent of the teaching staff at Rutgers — are demanding pay equity (which they list as $7,250 per course), job security, universal access to affordable healthcare coverage, and, in general, more representation and visibility in the university in the form of amenities like office space, classroom resources, and administrative support.
They currently earn on average $5,178 per course that they teach and — even with a full course load of three classes per semester — often earn little more than $31,000 a year. Rutgers PTLs do earn more on average than other adjuncts at other higher education institutions in the state. However, they argue their compensation is still not enough to support the high cost of living in New Jersey and is below the rate in other Big Ten universities and similar colleges.
The AAUP-AFT union is calling on students, professors and other staff to join them in voicing their support for the PTLs at “solidarity” rallies at all Rutgers campuses today.
Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin said Tuesday night that a settlement had been reached and the university will be issuing a statement. A union press conference is also scheduled for this morning.