Unions representing all of the various professors and teachers at Rutgers (full-time faculty, adjunct professors, graduate students and more) on all three of its campuses voted to go on strike Sunday night in what may be the largest higher education strike in history.
Rutgers has more than 67,000 students across its three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. It is unclear if any of them will have classes today. The unions announced plans Sunday night to have picket lines at various places on all three campuses.
Rebecca Given, president of the union representing the majority of Rutgers professors, told members in an 8:30 p.m. zoom call (that also was lived streamed on YouTube) that the union boards had voted unanimously to go on strike – feeling they had no other choice.
The union workers have been working without a contract since last June.
“We have bargained and bargained and bargained and bargained and bargained – and we’re not getting anywhere, and we need to do something more,” Given said during the 36-minute town hall meeting. “So, our boards have decided that we will stand together – part-time (professors), full-time (professors), grad workers, postdocs, counselors, biomedical faculty, so-called legacy faculty – and we will take this momentous step.”
As of this morning, the YouTube version of the meeting had more than 17,000 page views.
Rutgers, through President Jonathan Holloway, and on a web page devoted to strike information, said the school will remain open and operating with classes “proceeding on a normal schedule.”
Holloway said this: “The continued academic progress of our students is our number one concern, and we will do all that we can so that their progress is not impeded by a strike. In the interests of our more than 67,000 students, many of whom are mere weeks away from graduation, we have posted guidelines for students, as well as for faculty and staff, about what to know during a strike.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, long an incredibly strong supporter of unions, said in a statement Sunday night that he is calling for university and union bargaining committees to meet in his office Monday “to have a productive dialogue.”
What does this all mean? We try to break it down:
Q: Will Rutgers be open Monday?
A: Yes, but it’s unclear how it will operate. The school, on its dedicated strike web page, said residence halls, bus service, dining, counseling and other student services will remain open and available during a strike or job action. The school also told students that libraries, labs and research facilities will be open.
Q: But will there be teachers to teach the classes?
A: That won’t be known until Monday morning. The school has told teachers to show up; the teachers have said they are going on strike. The initial guess is that there will be only a limited number of classes – if any at all.
Q: Why is the Rutgers faculty going on strike?
A: Wages, almost always, are at the heart of any strike. In this case, the wage scales in general are being called into question. Historically, wages for adjunct professors and graduate students at all institutions of higher education are stunningly low. There are other issues, including job security for those who are not full-time professors.
Q: How much do full professors at Rutgers make?univstats.com, for the academic year 2021-2022, at Rutgers University – New Brunswick, a salary for a professor salary increased by 2.98%, from $156,674 to $161,340, for 829 professors.A: According to
Q: How has negotiating been going?
A: As is the case with any job action or strike, both sides say they have been bargaining in good faith, but the other side has note. In reality, it doesn’t matter. The issue now is which side gives in first – and to what degree do they meet the demands of the other.
Q: Is Rutgers faculty allowed to strike?
A: University officials, citing court cases, say they are not. On their strike page, in the space devoted to faculty, Rutgers wrote:
“New Jersey courts consistently and expressly have held that strikes by New Jersey public employees are illegal. For example, in the Teaneck v. Teamsters case, the court specifically held that “[t]he law in our State has long prohibited public employees from striking… [and] the Chancery Division may enjoin this illegality and impose sanctions for disobedience to its orders.” Any assertion that this principle does not apply to Rutgers employees, or that it is any less significant because it is established by the judiciary as the common law in the State of New Jersey, and not by the legislature as statutory law, is simply wrong.”
Q: Where does Gov. Murphy stand on the issue?
A: That remains to be seen. He obviously will work to be a peacemaker. It should be noted, Murphy has been solidly behind unions since he was candidate Murphy – continually calling out his support for “union brothers and sisters” and often saying he wears that support as a “badge of honor.”
Last fall, however, he was called out by other union leaders regarding the negotiations.
In a statement on Twitter Sunday night, Murphy said: “The world-class educators, students, and staff of Rutgers University have my word that these parties will negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair for all parties.”
Q: Can Murphy have impact?
A: Of course. The extent of it, however, is unclear at this point. But, as the governor, he seemingly could put more pressure on the school than the union – especially during budget season.
This much is clear: This is the first major strike of his time in office – one that has a far-reaching impact. You can be sure his actions will be watched by union leaders across the state.
Q: How does this impact other colleges and universities in the state?
A: Today – not at all. But you can be sure that higher education unions at every other school in the state are watching the proceedings with great interest.
Q: How does this impact other colleges and universities across the country?
A: You can be sure that higher education unions at schools across the country are closely watching the proceedings with great interest. On the town-hall meeting call last night, there were references to outreach of support from other unions.
Q: How will this impact graduation – which is just over a month away, on May 14?
A: Ask again in a few weeks. As of this morning, Rutgers officials say graduation is on (how could they say anything else?). But, if the strike continues until the end of the school year, it’s unclear how it will be determined if students pass the classes needed for graduation. Rutgers, in its note to students on its web site, told them they should continue their studies.
Q: What should we expect today?
A: Picket lines at various locations at all three schools. The Sunday meeting discussed some of the details (kids of strikers are welcome, they mentioned on more than one occasion). The town hall also said a mid-day rally would be held at the main Rutgers campus in New Brunswick.
Q: Is there any reason to believe the strike will be settled today or this week?
A: Too early to tell – but signs could emerge as soon as today. Do many faculty members cross the picket line, will there be a court order regarding the situation – and, if so, will it be followed, will Murphy and other state leaders be able to solve any of the issues?
The reality is: This strike has been a long time coming. Both sides appear to be dug in on their positions. Getting both sides to come together may not be likely until both sides can fully assess the impact of the strike – which always is the case.