by Mary R.
On May 10, 2023, Rutgers University union members voted 93% to ratify a new contract, after nearly a year without one. Three unions bargained together, betting that this unprecedented coalition would be able to secure bigger gains for the most vulnerable educators on our campuses. The bet paid off–but only after we showed our solidarity by going on strike.
For five days, starting on April 10, picket lines marched through all Rutgers campuses (including North New Jersey DSA members, employees and alumni), professors canceled classes and the union bargaining team and management were summoned to Trenton by Governor Murphy. Less than a month, and hundreds of grueling hours of negotiating later, the university agreed to contracts that substantially adopted the unions’ demands.
Pay for adjuncts, who teach at least one-third of classes offered at Rutgers, according to their union, will increase by 44% between now and 2025. They will also have more job security as people who have taught for two or more years will now be given con- tracts for more than one semester at a time, called “presumptive renewal.” Previously, adjuncts were hired on a per-semester basis, which made it almost impossible for people to plan for the future.
Graduate students, who teach classes, work in labs, and conduct their own research, will see their salaries rise to $40,000 annually by 2025. Incoming PhD students will be guaranteed five years of funding starting in 2024. Students whose research was disrupted by the Covid pandemic are eligible for additional funding. Full-time faculty will gain 14% pay raises over the contract’s four-year term. The full text of the contract can be found at rutgersaaup.org.
Rutgers administration did not meet all of the unions’ demands. One of our boldest strategies was Bargaining for the Common Good, which linked our labor with issues affecting undergraduate students and residents of the communities where Rutgers campuses are located. In New Brunswick, for example, Rutgers is the largest landlord. Students report inadequate living conditions at the same time that Rutgers is increasing rents. While we were unable to get the rent freeze that we bargained for, we won a $600,000 Common Good fund, paid for by the state.
Rutgers workers, like other educators at Temple University, University of California, Columbia University, and The New School, aren’t only fighting for better pay. We raised our voices together against the neo- liberalization of universities. Rather than caring about our core mission–education–the neoliberal university applies capitalist ideas to running the university to increase its so-called efficiency and profit. Universities become focused on growing endowments while reducing the numbers of secure tenure track jobs in favor of low-paid, insecure adjunct positions. While our jobs may be different, university workers are fighting for the same ideals of equity, dignity, and security as our fellow workers at Amazon or Starbucks and the writers currently on strike with the Writers Guild of America.