July 17, 2019 | 75° F

AAUP-AFT pickets in front of Board of Governors meeting for healthcare, equal pay

Photo by Brendan Brightman |

In front of the Board of Governors meeting yesterday afternoon, the faculty union picketed in order to get health insurance, raises, more diversity hiring from underrepresented groups and pay equity across all three campuses of Rutgers.

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) held its “Final Warning: Strike or Contract” picket outside the Board of Governors meeting yesterday, where members chanted, gave speeches and walked with signs in front of the Paul Robeson Campus Center in Newark, New Jersey. The AAUP-AFT has been negotiating a new contract for 13 months, and a strike has been authorized by 88 percent of the union. 

“We are here to picket the Board of Governors to tell Barchi to do the right thing,” said Deepa Kumar, president of AAUP-AFT and an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. “What a strike does is it shows who actually makes Rutgers work.”

It is not the more than 240 administrators who make more than $250,000 that makes Rutgers work, it is the faculty and graduate workers, Kumar said. 

Jim Pope, a distinguished professor at Rutgers Law School, said he was picketing because he, too, was concerned about the number of administrators compared to tenured or tenured track faculty to part-time lecturers (PTLs). He was also one of 70 distinguished professors at Rutgers who wrote a letter to University President Robert L. Barchi voicing these same concerns. 

“Since I came here in 1986, I feel like this University has been gradually hollowed out,” he said. “It’s a great University, it still is, but when I came here 45 percent of the faculty was tenured, and now that is down to a little over 30 percent.”

The number of PTLs has increased as well, Pope said, with the percentage of faculty working as PTLs being approximately 12 to 13 percent when he came as opposed to now, a number which has risen to approximately 30 percent. 

One of the major problems with this shift is that PTLs and other non-tenured or tenured track faculty are not given sufficient benefits, affecting their teaching, research and personal lives, said Lauren Barbato, a PTL at Rutgers—Newark. 

“We are arguably the most exploited workers, equal pay for equal work,” she said. “We do the same work as the ‘full-time faculty’ and we get paid much less and don’t get health insurance.” 

The salary for PTLs, approximately $30,000 per year, is not enough to live in northern New Jersey, Barbato said. And the lack of health insurance has been an issue for her as well, as she has a broken ankle and is in need of a cast. 

Last semester, Barbato said she had to take a second job as a teacher at Fairleigh Dickinson University, teaching two classes in addition to her three at Rutgers. 

The lack of health insurance and salary increases has been an issue for Kathleen Farley, a graduate worker at Rutgers—Newark, she said. They have not seen a raise since 2013, and with inflation this has led to a 10-percent decrease in overall spending power. 

The union is fighting for, along with health insurance and raises, equal pay for men and women faculty in the same position, more diversity hiring from underrepresented groups and pay equity across all three campuses, Kumar said. 

The University can afford these programs, she said. Union fliers handed out at the picket stated that Rutgers had $783 million in liquid reserves in 2017 and had a surplus profit in the operating budget of $50 million from 2014 to 2016. 

“Plenty of money lying around, just not enough to respect our faculty,” Kumar said. 

Dory Devlin, senior director of University News and Media Relations, said earlier this month that agreements have been made among five of Rutgers’ labor unions, which have generally given 3-percent raises to members, and that the University continues to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis.

The strike has been an effective tool, according to the AAUP-AFT, as it has already worked in getting an additional $20 million from Barchi’s presidential fund for the University Diversity Hiring Initiative and a push back of one semester for the new scheduling system, Kumar said. The system allegedly scheduled many more Friday afternoon classes, which would be inconvenient for faculty attempting to do research or go to conferences on weekends. 

A strike would be unfortunate but she wants her students “to know that this is the reality of the world we live in. We live in a world that values profits over people, and that people need to stand up and fight back against that," Farley said.

Brendan Brightman

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