Rutgers Unions Keep the Pressure on

While representatives of the 9,000 Rutgers University education workers that suspended their strike this week are still bargaining, the unions that represent fulltime faculty, adjuncts and the graduate students want a good showing at a picket line they are setting up at 11:30  a.m. on Thursday (April 20) on the New Brunswick campus where the Board of Governors are scheduled to convene.

“Now, as the Board of Governors prepares to meet, union members are rallying to demand that the administration address issues left open under the framework that have to be resolved before they have a tentative agreement to send to members to vote on,” the unions said in a statement.” With just a week before finals start and a few days after the unions voted to suspend strike action, the threat of a resumed work stoppage remains.”

Two union officials following the progress of the talks closely remained optimistic about the durability of the so-called “framework” brokered by Gov. Phil Murphy last weekend. Under that tentative agreement adjunct professors get a 43 percent pay increase and graduate worker a 33 percent bump in salary over the four-year pact that will be retroactive to July 2022 when their last contract lapsed.

The suspension of the strike was seen as a sign of good faith by the unions who also were keen to mitigate the potential impact on the 67,000 students at the Newark, New Brunswick and Camden campuses who were just weeks away from the end of spring semester.

Amy Higer is president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union and has taught political science as an adjunct for 23 years. She was following the progress of the ongoing talks on zoom when she spoke with InsiderNJ.

“At the bargaining table today, things seemed to be moving,” Higer said. “It seems management wants to get this wrapped up and that’s encouraging. We need to make sure that the graduate students very reasonable demands are addressed as well as those of the medical faculty. Then we will decide where we are and how best to move forward.”

Higer said the inter-union cohesion across job title and status was the foundation of the Rutgers labor movement.

“I have to credit full time faculty leaders in all of this,” Higer said. “They understand how important it is for all of us to come together and win things for those who are least well off in the ranks and that’s adjunct faculty and graduate students. They are tremendous. They are in this fight not for themselves which is something I would really like people to know. They are in it to address income inequality at Rutgers.”

A fourth bargaining unit, the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT, represents 2,500 administration staff across the system has asked members if they would pledge to authorize a strike.

Hank Kalet is a journalism professor and the vice president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union. He said during a phone interview that the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT “could provide a lot of leverage” for the three Rutgers unions still looking to close the deal.

“If you have to register for a class, you need their members,” Kalet said. “If you need a diploma after you graduate or a transcript you are dealing with one of their members—everything that makes this place work behind the scenes, ordering food, making sure students get their dining cards—student IDs they get it done.”

“What we have in place is a framework and you can’t move into a house that was only framed,” Kalet said. “There are a lot of moving pieces we have to get pinned down. The framework as it exists is a remarkable document. Both sides are bound to the basics of it but things still can’t fall apart.”

Kalet continued. “The big part of this is that everybody is getting significant raises and there’s some language about job security that was really important to us because as adjuncts this idea that we have to apply for our job over and over again is really demeaning and we were able to win language that changes that.”

Higer and Kalet confirmed that a major sticking point at the negotiation table revolves around the workforce from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey that folded into Rutgers University in 2013. (The takeover came after a sprawling corruption scandal at UMDNJ that involved “kickbacks, patronage and fraud” according to NJ Spotlight.)

“Among the three unions that took job actions last week, AAUP-BHSNJ, which represents 1,300 essential health care workers, including medical faculty who served on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, is still trying to win agreements on numerous open contract issues,” according to a union press release.

“We’re asking for basic things that other full-time faculty at Rutgers have, like a parental leave policy so we don’t have use sick time and protection against detenuring,” said AAUP-BHSNJ President Dr. Catherine Monteleone. “These aren’t luxuries; these are essential to our members.”

Kalet believes that the roots of the current labor battle at Rutgers and the financialization of higher education started in the Reagan era when direct federal grants to students were phased out and replaced by student and parent borrowing.

“Reagan gutted higher ed funding,” recalled Kalet. “Whatever federal funding there was he upended. Everybody forgets that there was a point in time where there was a lot of money in grants that students could get. You weren’t requiring everybody to borrow money to go to college in 1981.”

That was $1.6 trillion in student high education debt ago.

Kalet continued, “Now, we have a university that’s more concerned about bondholders than the students. That’s why so much attention is put-on big-time sports because they are seen as money makers and they are seen as public relations wins and the bondholders are like, ‘yeah, we will loan you money to build a stadium.”

In the years since “if you track the numbers, we went from 75 percent of our courses being taught by tenure or tenure track faculty—three out of four— down to just one in three to one in four and its far worse at the county colleges.”

And the pittances paid out to so many Rutgers instructional employees is now a planet away from Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway total compensation package well in excess of $1 million which included an annual six figure bonus. And there’s the 14,000 square foot presidential home as well as a chauffeured car for when he’s on Rutgers business. He is also allowed to serve on a for-profit corporate board of directors and one that’s non-profit.

Holloway’s deal is paltry compared to what Rutgers paid its football coach Greg Schiano, who NJAdvance Media reported got an eight year $32 million contract. Last year, Rep. William Pascrell (D-Dist. 9) wrote Holloway to inquire “how the university’s lucrative athletics program is furthering the educational purposes for which Rutgers receives tax exemption.”

“It is unclear how such lucrative compensation contracts further the overall educational mission of Rutgers and benefit your student body as a whole,” Pascrell wrote.  “These contracts also present a stark contrast to the benefits received by the university’s student-athletes, whose grants-in-aid each semester pale in comparison to their coaches’ compensation.”

According to NJAdvance Media, “Schiano took a 10 percent pay cut in 2020 amid the pandemic while “Rutgers athletics reported a record $73.3 million deficit and spent $118.4 million to fund the athletics department in the most recent fiscal year, according to a ledger filed with the NCAA.”

NJ Advance also reported that a comprehensive review of the program’s books since 2003-04 “showed the athletics department’s deficit to be $556.9 million.”

The week-long strike also brought additional scrutiny to Rutgers University’s endowment, that was established to help cover the costs of university’s operations which The Lever reported has doubled down on relying on high-risk, high-fee hedge funds from $213 million to $459 million since 2020.

“Rutgers’ increase in hedge fund investments comes as other major investors, including the New Jersey state pension fund and the California Public Employees Retirement System have pulled away from the sector, due to concerns about fees and performance. Hedge fund performance has overall suffered relative to the broader market,” the Lever reported.

And there’s the mountain of hundreds of millions of dollars in bonded indebtedness that Rutgers itself has generated that act as tax exempt investment grade opportunities listed as several General Obligations Bonds Series G, H, I, J,K,L,M,N,O, and P.

In the mix the university’s bond counsel McCarter & English, LLP, the bond underwriters counsel Connell Foley, LLP, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and so many more making fortunes off the honeycomb pyramid of debt.

It’s quite a gravy train.

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One response to “Rutgers Unions Keep the Pressure on”

  1. Let them go back on strike and then fire ALL of them!!!! Enough with taxpayers being held hostage to this group of cretins. The crap that it’s President Reagan’s fault is just that–crap! Rutgers, and every other college in the nation have raised their tuitions astronomically, because they realized that the Fed. gov’t was giving out obscene amounts of money in FAFSA loans and Pell Grants. So, it’s a bunch of nonsense to blame a dead President, who hasn’t been President for 35 years.

    Democrats need to take responsibility for their corruption, extortion and bribery of monies for colleges, causing colleges to increase tuitions ten-fold and more during the past 35 years, since they’ve been in charge of Congress for most of that time. And, Congresscritter Pascrell needs to shut his mouth about who’s getting what at Rutgers, since he’s been in office for decades and has done nothing to help out students, tuition, or anything else to make colleges affordable. If Rutgers is getting endowments (some of it or most of it from donors outside of the United States) then that money should be used in the equation to fix the problem of salaries and pensions. Other schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton have endowments in the tens of billions of dollars (with a lot of it from donors outside of the country).

    My question is: If everyone is so damned concerned about who is getting what and how much at Rutgers–THE STATE UNIVERISTY, and they’re complaining about a $73.3 MILLION DOLLAR deficit, there’s poor money management, corruption, bribery and/or extortion, or both going on at Rutgers. So, how come there’s no annual audit on spending on the State schools under the Rutgers banner????

    Enough already with the complaining and blaming others who aren’t even on this Earth anymore. The problem is NOW, and the people in charge or those in the government are here NOW and creating this mess. Take responsibility, or put up or shut up, or resign.

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