By: Morgan Reitzel, Follow South Jersey Intern
CAMDEN, N.J. – For the first time in the 256 year university’s history, more than 9,000 professors and graduate students across all three campuses are striking demanding a pay increase and the rights of untenured adjunct faculty members and graduate workers bringing classes and research to a stop.
The two main Rutgers unions, the AAUP-AFT and the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, have asked for, “equity-driven changes that would give part-time lecturers long-term and more predictable contracts, with salaries calculated based on full-time non-tenured faculty.” Also, the union request for higher wages of the graduate workers is below the pay rate of other universities in the tri-state area. Many graduate students have to work secret jobs and are on food stamps as they are not allowed to have other jobs during this time.
It is important to note that Gov. Phil Murphy supports the strike and advises the University to not make the picketters work with a court work making the strike illegal. Gov. Murphy has invited the negotiation to take place at the state capitol in Trenton for representatives from the university and the unions.
Affecting 67,000 students, many have not attended class since Monday and will continue to do so to support their professors and graduate students. Furthermore, in a statement made by Rutgers University, they believe that the students will not be affected by the strike, but how could they not? The young adults are being shown physical proof that the people that they look up to are not being treated right and are not attending the classes where they learn vital information. With the spring semester ending in a month, it is unclear how students will be able to finish up their education.
The President of the Rutgers A.A.U.P.-A.F.T Rebecca Givan, says “we intend for this new contract to be transformative, especially for our lowest-paid and most vulnerable members.” Also, the union proposals include a significant raise and the promise of job security for adjunct professors are what the administration has resisted most during negotiations. The negotiations have hit a stalemate with Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway’s administration and have been dragged on since July 2022.
With 94% of the faculty members belonging to the three unions, they told Rutgers administration about a strike and Rutgers continued to not meet their needs. After failing to put their students and faculty first, the strike happened for the first time in Rutgers history. With a 12 hour mediation that happened on Sunday April 9, Swerdloff, a part-time lecturer in the New Brunswick campus’s writing program, recalls that there was very little accomplished at the mediation meeting and she felt disrespect from the management with most university members unwilling to meet in person with union members and remained on zoom.
AAUP-AFT General President Todd Wolfson wrote an email entitled “”shake this university to the ground,” sent Sunday morning to faculty members and claimed that the mediate was clearly for appearance purposes as it was the first time in 10 months that there was even word of a raise.
As the strike quickly gained momentum and national attention, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered his support on Twitter by saying, “these workers deserve a good contract with fair pay and benefits NOW.”
Representative Frank Pallone Jr., who is a Democrat that represents the congressional district that includes Rutgers recalls that “The administration calls me all the time to try to get more grants and funding for more research,” he said. “But I always say if that is going to be the case, we need to make sure that the graduate students who are doing the research, teaching the classes, they have to have a fair wage too.”
Emily Melise, a junior civil engineering major student at Rutgers University claims, “I support professors getting the benefits and pay they deserve but there is some type of obligation to students. I have not done any of my homework or gone to class because if they are not working, why should I?” Melise also recalls that some of the students including her friends have joined the strike in order to support the teachers.
It is unclear how long the strike is going to last.
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