Rutgers faculty union begins vote for official strike authorization

<p>Deepa Kumar, the president of AAUP-AFT and an associate professor of Journalism and Media Studies said the strike would aim to disrupt University classes.&nbsp;</p>

Deepa Kumar, the president of AAUP-AFT and an associate professor of Journalism and Media Studies said the strike would aim to disrupt University classes. 

A vote for an official strike authorization for all faculty and graduate workers in the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) began yesterday, said Deepa Kumar, president of AAUP-AFT and associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, to The Daily Targum.  

A strike would aim to shut down all classes and disrupt the normal functioning of the University, Kumar said.

“Their vote will determine whether our elected leadership is authorized to call a job action, up to and including a strike, if we do not start to make serious gains at bargaining,” Kumar said. “It's been a full year, and management remains intransigent on key issues of equal pay for equal work, job security and salary increases that keep pace with the increasing cost of living.”

The union hopes a strike will also resolve several other issues, such as the current lack of gender and race equity in hiring, salaries and retention, as well as a raise to teaching and graduate assistants. Kumar said they have not seen a raise in many years and deserve a substantial increase that comes up to pace with inflation. 

“Our faculty believe Rutgers is for education, not profit,” Kumar said. “A strike would aim to compel management to stop treating our students like an ATM by charging them exorbitant fees that are 10 to 15 times the Big Ten average. A strike would aim to force management to stop trying to impose a robo-scheduling system on all of us that would lead to students and faculty having class schedules that ignore child care, health, research, work and other concerns.”

Dory Devlin, senior director of University news and media relations, said that agreements have been reached with five of Rutgers’ labor unions, which have generally given 3-percent raises to members. These agreements cover approximately 25 percent of the University’s unionized workforce. 

“We are continuing to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis with the remaining unions,” Devlin said. 

University President Robert L. Barchi, in an interview with the Targum, said it is unacceptable that academics have been budgetarily supplementing athletics. Once Rutgers is a full-equity partner in the Big Ten in 2020, the return on the investment will balance out the past budget restraints.

“And we will be in a situation where athletics is on a ship in its own bottom basically,” Barchi said. “Hopefully, it won’t be too many years before there is a surplus from athletics that goes back into academics. As it does in many, not all, academic peers.” 

Athletics has been subsidized $193 million since 2012, according to the AAUP-AFT website

Addressing minority hiring, Barchi said this has been one of his highest priorities. He committed $22 million of his presidential reserves to a multi-year program, which is the single biggest commitment he has made from his presidential reserve funds. 

“Those dollars, $7 million this year alone, have resulted in the hiring of somewhere between 40 to 50 faculty in the past two years,” Barchi said. “The problem is they’re being recruited away when they get to be assistant or associate professors.” 

The AAUP-AFT’s Gender and Race Equity committee found that the percentage of Black faculty has decreased from 5.4 percent in 1997 to 4.2 percent in 2017, according to its website. The percentages of Latinx and Asian faculty have risen during the same time period.

Additionally, the committee found that in 2017, 20 percent of distinguished professors and 30 percent of full-time professors were female. The gender balance between assistant and associate professors were both approximately 50 percent, according to its website.

Kumar said that a strike is something the union would like to avoid, but it is also a powerful tool to compel Barchi’s administration to recognize that Rutgers works because the faculty in AAUP-AFT do. 

"Our students are the top priority for us. If we decide to strike it's because faculty and grads feel that there is a much greater harm being done to our students and our ability to continue to provide a quality education by not striking,” Kumar said. “Management's refusal to bargain over and resolve basic issues is what may force students to lose a few days of class.”

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