Rutgers Union Protest at Old Queens Calls for Fair Contracts

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On February 24, close to 100 members of the Rutgers community protested at Old Queens, the university's oldest building and home to its administration, for fair faculty and staff contracts from the administration.

The crowd consisted of professors, part-time lecturers, graduate students, undergraduate students, teaching assistants (TA’s), adjunct professors, and alumni.

Formed a large circle around the entrance to Old Queens, they blocked traffic around the building as they spoke in favor of better contracts.

The protest was organized by the Reclaiming Rutgers campaign, a collective effort of several unions on campus, particularly the AFT-AAUP and the URA, to address their grievances with the negotiations over faculty and staff contracts

For the past three years, faculty have sufferred from a salary freeze that has made it difficult for many teachers to adjust to the rising cost of living in New Jersey.

The major issues the two sides are fighting over are include the amount of annual raises, and the insertion of so-called “subject to” language into the proposals.

In the contract that the administration is currently trying to push forward, several promises, including salary increases, are left contingent upon, or “subject to,” whether or not the University has the money to do so.

Over the megaphone outside the Old Queens building, multiple professors, adjuncts, and TA’s expressed similar views, that the use of “subject to” language shows that the University does not value their hard work.

“Using that language, the administration indicates that we don’t matter, that we are a very small cog in this very large machine,” said Professor David Hughes at the rally yesterday. “The University pays all sorts of obligations responsibly and without contingencies.”

“For example, they are building this new academic building with a contract that says they will pay the company to do that work. It doesn’t say, ‘we will pay the company to build the building provided when they are done, we have the money, the priorities, and feel it's important.’”

One of the protestors, undergrad student Hannah Roe, said the Rutgers administration often makes claims that they can not raise salaries or freeze tuition, but “they have $708 million in unrestricted funds, and they just raised an additional $1.037 billion.”

President Barchi fundraised the billion dollar sum without any detailed explanation of what the money would be used for.

After many speeches, the large crowd marched inside the building to fill the lobby, chanting, “We teach, Subject to! We Grade, Subject to!” and “Subject to, forget you!”

The crowd filled the building's entire lobby, and up the stairs into the second floor, where Barchi's office is.

From the stair case, AAUP Representative Sherry Wolf read testimony sent to the union by professors.

Multiple professors expressed the belief that the administrators should include “subject to” language in their own contracts.

The crowd ignited with fervor when she read a testimonial that simply stated, “I think we ought to strike.”

The whole crowd, faculty, students, and alumni alike, followed by loudly chanting “Strike! Strike! Strike!,” rattling the stair case and floor of the building.

After more testimonials, Professor Deepa Kumar spoke about the rhetoric the administration has been using lately to address the issue of salaries.

She said, “It's full of half-truths, downright lies, and misinformation… the propaganda coming from the administration really is about underestimating us.”

“They think we’re fools, they think we don’t look at our pay checks. How many of you looked at your paychecks this January and saw that you got a pay cut since December? And then you read the email that says they’ve been paying raises for the past few years?” Kumar asked the crowd.

“There is no new money, even though by every account, Rutgers is flush with money.”

AAUP representative Sherry Wolf said, “We have to take seriously whether or not we are going to take some kind of action if we do not have contracts that are satisfactory to us by Spring break, and there are legal options that faculty have that we can take.”

To much applause, Wolf suggested a day of protest in which faculty taught students about the struggles they face from the administration, and educate them on the ways they are also exploited, such as through rising tuition costs.

Wolf also mentioned the misinformation regarding the average faculty salary, which is stated as being $150,000. However that does not take the full 7000 faculty members into account, only the top 900.

“The average salary of a non-tenure track faculty member, of whom there are the same number as full professors, is $69,000. And adjuncts, some of whom have been teaching for decades, have average salaries of $40,000.”

Amidst the salary freeze, TA’s and graduate students are seeing major cuts to funding as well.

One TA explained that they were reduced to being a fellow, for which they did the same exact job with less pay, and no health benefits.

A six-year Ph. D student named Carlin explained she needed to work four jobs over the summer, and two jobs over the semester while writing her dissertation, just to make up for her funding cuts.

After roughly an hour of testimony and dialogue, the protest ended as the crowd marched from the building chanting, “We work, Subject to! We teach, subject to!”

Amidst the protest, union representatives and lawyers were engaged in a bargaining session in the same building with administrators.

Bargaining sessions have been occurring over a very long period due to the administration’s unwillingness to accept the union’s demands, and the union’s unwillingness to concede to their offers.

The last contract expired August 31, 2014, and so all faculty members have been effectively working without a contract.

The hope of the unions is to settle a contract that excludes “subject to” language by March 14.

“We have a story based on the truth, let us tell it loudly and proudly until we win this one,” said Kumar, to the hopeful crowd of faculty, staff, and students.