Part-Time Faculty at Rutgers Reaches ‘Groundbreaking’ Contract

Carly Sitrin | May 15, 2019 | Education
Full membership yet to vote on agreement that gives pay increases, more job security, other benefits but no contractual access to healthcare

AAUP-AFT union officials advocated for the PTLs at a rally on April 17
After years of bargaining and campaigning, Rutgers University’s often overlooked workforce of 3,000 part-time faculty have reached a tentative agreement for what their union is calling a “groundbreaking and transformational contract.”

The agreement — if OK’d by the full union membership — would establish a new path to career advancement for adjunct faculty, with salary increases along the way.

Late Monday night, after several marathon negotiation sessions, the Part-Time Faculty Chapter of Rutgers American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers union announced it had made a deal with the university that would create three levels of part-time lectureships, giving the part-timers added job security, pay increases, and more recognition in the form of evaluations, discrimination protection and reimbursements for supplies and other academic costs.

Teresa Politano, president of the part-time faculty union called the contract “revolutionary” but noted that it is primarily a foundation on which they hope to build future contracts.

“We’re not just freelance employees anymore. Under this agreement we will become more integrated faculty members,” Politano said. “That’s a radical restructuring of the overall faculty system and a good foundation for future contracts.” But she added, “We didn’t win all of the gains we set out to win, and we have much work to do.”

Politano said the part-time lecturers (PTLs) did not win access to healthcare as they had hoped, and they will be taking that discussion to the Legislature on the state level.

More than 3,000 part-timers

Teresa Politano, president of the PTL faculty union chapter
Politano and AAUP-AFT PTL chapter vice president David Chapman spent years designing and bargaining for what they call “a professional structure for advancement for part-time faculty,” fighting for more equitable pay, job security and benefits. Rutgers currently employs more than 3,000 part-time faculty members, the highest number of adjuncts in the Big Ten, a consortium of peer colleges and universities. The contingent faculty make up 70 percent of the teaching staff at Rutgers and teach 30 percent of all courses — meaning most, if not all, students will have encountered a PTL at some point during their college career, often without even knowing it.

Full-time faculty — who had shaken the university with the unprecedented threat of a strike — won a contract in April and subsequently passed resolutions in support of a fair contract for their PTL colleagues.

The issue of the so-called adjunctification of higher education is not exclusive to Rutgers. More recognition is being paid nationwide to the growing trend of a majority part-time workforce being employed at colleges and universities. Some data suggests as many as 70 percent of all U.S. professors are working in this contingent system — receiving extremely low pay, little to no benefits, and nonexistent job security. And with the spotlight on Rutgers, Politano said this contract is a “terrific and exciting” advancement.

The PTLs at Rutgers went to the bargaining table asking for pay equity (an increase in salary of $5,178 per course to $7,250 per course), increased job security, contractual access to affordable healthcare coverage, and, in general, more representation and visibility in the university including office space, classroom resources, regular evaluations and administrative support.

No real career advancement until now

At their former pay scale, even teaching a full course load of three classes per semester, PTLs would often earn little more than $31,000 a year. And teaching that full load would mean little time left for duties like advising and writing recommendation letters for students and for holding office hours. Moreover, the PTLs had no real system for career advancement and often found themselves bouncing from school to school across the state with little guarantee that their courses would be approved each semester.

The new contract addresses many of those concerns. It features pay increases, career advancement and multi-semester appointments, and an increased professional-development fund for PTLs; it also grants priority appointments for long-term PTLs, establishes a professional evaluation process, adds protections against discrimination and harassment and a stronger grievance procedure.

Most significantly, the contract creates three tiers of adjunct professorship at Rutgers — PTL, PTL 2 and PTL 3 — and, for the first time, it mandates job security in the form of multi-semester appointments.

After 12 semesters of teaching, PTLs would be eligible to advance to PTL 2 level and receive a 9 percent increase in base pay. After an additional 12 semesters, PTL 2s could level up to PTL 3, earning a further 9 percent pay increase. What’s more, PTLs could teach those 12 semesters non-consecutively or in different departments.

These level-specific increases would be in addition to the negotiated across-the-board wage increases for all Rutgers faculty unions of more than 12 percent compounded over the life of the four-year contract. Three percent would be retroactive to fall 2018, 3 percent would be applied in fall 2019, 3 percent in fall 2020, and 2.5 percent in fall 2021. All told, those who advance to PTL 3 would see a raise of 33 percent over the four years, while those who advance to PTL 2 would see a raise of 23 percent.

However, Politano said those across-the-board increases were not part of the union’s original requests. She noted they were part of a pattern established by Rutgers’ agreements with the college’s teamsters unions that were subsequently applied to all union agreements with the university.

Some disappointment

“We worked hard to break the established salary pattern for across-the-board increases, but we were not successful,” Politano said. She added that it was the union’s intention to secure salary increases specific to the PTLs. “Am I disappointed? Yes. But overall, I believe we have a strong agreement, one that offers advancement opportunities, with real gains, for everyone.”

The union estimates nearly 1,100 PTLs (40 percent of the part-time faculty) will be eligible for advancement over the course of the contract.

But the PTLs did not quite achieve their sought-after $7,250 per course. Under the agreement, those who are eligible to advance to PTL 2 would earn at least $6,636 per three-credit course. PTL 3s would earn at least $7,234 per three-credit course.

In prior contracts, the union secured a Professional Development Fund for PTLs that reimburses teachers for conferences and classroom materials related to teaching responsibilities. In this new agreement, the fund would be increased to $300,000 over the life of the contract and PTLs would be able to apply retroactively for reimbursement of costs incurred during the 2018-2019 academic year.

The union had also set a goal of improving the evaluation process for PTLs to achieve “meaningful career advancement.” This agreement, it says, would institute a fair and efficient evaluation process.

More work to do on healthcare coverage

The PTLs also have achieved new guarantees for a workplace free from discrimination and harassment and would be able to enforce those promises through binding arbitration.

In terms of what’s left to fight for, the union did not win contractual access to healthcare coverage and Politano said she thinks Trenton might be the best place to secure that guarantee.

“We have a governor now who is sensitive to the healthcare issue,” Politano said. “How do you cover these people who are providing a very valuable service to the students and to the universities statewide? That should be addressed.”

The contract will now be considered by the chapter executive board this week and, if approved, it will be put the full membership for a vote.