Historic Rutgers University Strike Ends-What You Need To Know

Written by Sarah Falcone
Published on April 19, 2023 · Updated on April 19, 2023

Historic Rutgers University Strike Ends-What You Need To Know

Written by Sarah Falcone
Published on April 19, 2023 · Updated on April 19, 2023

The New Jersey governor's office issued a press release on Saturday, announcing that Rutgers University and labor union representatives had reached a framework agreement, effectively suspending the week-long faculty strike.

The agreement was reached late Friday night, according to a letter from Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway, thanks to Governor Murphy's active and engaged leadership.

Over 9000 faculty and graduate students, researchers, and clinicians at Rutgers University participated in historic protests that disrupted classes, research, and other campus activities in order to secure better contracts for employees. The walk-out came after months of failed negotiations with workers' labor unions.

Source: @RUStrikeUpdates on Twitter

The Rutgers strike was the first in the university’s 257-year history, and it garnered national attention, impacting over 67,000 students across three campuses in New Brunswick, Camden, and Newark. Here’s a timeline of the unprecedented events and how the Rutgers University strike affected some faculty and students.

Rutgers University Strike Timeline of Events

Monday, April 10, 2023

The work stoppage was organized by union representatives in order to improve pay and job stability for workers, particularly adjunct faculty and low-wage graduate students. Union officials told the New York Times that 94% of members voted in favor of a strike. Specific items on the union’s list of demands included the following:

  • Pay parity for adjunct faculty
  • $15/hr campus minimum wage
  • Longer contracts for faculty without tenure
  • Multi-year contracts and a path to full-time employment for adjuncts
  • Salary equity across campuses
  • Guaranteed graduate funding and support
  • End to withholding transcripts for unpaid student fines
  • Polling places on campus

Workers also called for one united bargaining unit for Rutgers University workers. Rutgers has three distinct labor unions serving 9,000 members. These include:

  1. American Association of University Professors - American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT)

  2. Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter (PTLFC-AAUP-AFT) for adjunct faculty

  3. American Association of University Professors-Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey chapter (AAUP-BHSNJ) for Rutgers Biomedical and Health Services employees

On Monday, many students and faculty did not go to class. 

“I was supposed to have an exam [Monday], but it was canceled because of the strike,” said Abiel Ghebre, a sophomore at Rutgers. 

Source: Facebook

The school warned that the strike could affect clinical courses for medical, nursing, and health profession students, but that class schedules, final exams, and academic calendars would remain unchanged.  

By Monday evening, university leadership began considering legal action. 

If there is no movement towards an agreement, we will have no choice but to take legal action to assure the continued academic progress of our students and prevent irreparable harm. This is especially important for the thousands of students who are finishing their academic careers at Rutgers and are only a few weeks away from earning their degrees.

Source: Twitter

Shortly after, New Jersey’s governor intervened to prevent the strike from going to court.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Negotiations between labor union representatives and Rutgers officials continued on Tuesday in Trenton, New Jersey. 

Some students told CBS News that their classes were canceled due to the picketing by their professors, while others said they were unaffected. Students across the board, however, expressed their desire for the situation to be resolved as soon as possible.

The university's website advised faculty that all employees were expected to report to work and perform their job duties and responsibilities during the protest. It further warned that legal action may be taken to protect students, patients, and staff from disruptions in education, clinical care, or the workplace.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

On Wednesday, union leaders spoke from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s office in a public Zoom call. They told viewers that they’d made progress on many economic demands, including salary raises and the pattern of those raises. Nonetheless, intense negotiations were still ongoing. 

Unsettled demands that remained unsettled at the bargaining tables included extending parental leave for workers and rent freezes on housing. 

At the picket line, many workers said that they were protesting to earn living wages, not “starvation wages”. 

A 2020 study showed that 46% of Rutgers grad students felt insecurity about basic needs such as food and housing. Some even experienced homelessness. The base graduate student salary was around $30,160—excluding tuition credits. Unions were pushing for $37,000.  

Thursday April 13, 2023

As negotiations continued, students continued to join educators on the picket lines. Instead of going to class, many attended picnics, concerts, marches, happy hours, and more.

Source: Twitter

Professor Michael Smart, associate professor of urban planning at Rutgers, witnessed students getting involved rather than sitting on the sidelines. "I'm completely blown away," he said to reporters. "It's amazing how much support we've gotten from students who are out in force."

Professor Smart scheduled teach-ins—online evening lectures—for students during the strike.

“We’re not abandoning our students,” Smart said. “We’re ensuring that the reputation of the university they’re getting their degree from continues to be good.” 

Friday, April 14, 2023

On Friday morning, a resolution had not been reached. 

Source: Twitter

At least one faculty member estimated that 70% of classes were interrupted. 

In terms of Rutgers saying on its website ‘business as usual’, well that is not true. And because of the broad wall-to-wall nature of the strike, even construction workers on campus have walked off the job so as to not violate the picket line.

Merch told Democracy Now that thousands of people took to the streets—a significant number of them undergraduates.

At midday on Friday, NBC News reported that an agreement had been reached on a key point of contention: "presumptive renewal." This would give job protection for non-tenured, full-time professors, because they would not have to reapply to the school when their contracts ended. 

This resolution, according to AAUP-AFT President Rebecca Givan, was "game changing." 

Givens told NBC News that representatives had achieved more in just a few days than in prior months of negotiations. "But difficult issues remain, and we still have a long way to go before we have a contract," Givens said.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

In a statement released just after 1:00 pm on Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that an agreement framework had been reached and the strike was suspended. Though the full terms have not yet been released, some of the details of the agreement include:

  • Increased salary for grad students—$40,000 over the course of the 10-month contract, plus health care coverage and free tuition and fees

  • Salary increases for full-time faculty and EOF counselors, at least 14% across the board by July 1, 2025

  • An 8% increase in per-credit salary for part-time lecturers over the course of the four-year contract, which Rutgers says will significantly strengthen job security

  • A 9% increase in the minimum salary for postdoctoral fellows and associates

  • Significant wage increases and a commitment to multi-university support for teaching and graduate assistants

  • Contracts will be retroactive to July 1, 2022, and covered employees will receive significant retroactive salary payments

Holloway said that the framework will provide fair and equitable wages, benefits, and working conditions for faculty, graduate students, and part time lecturers. 

Givan told reporters that the agreement sets in place unprecedented gains for workers and communities. 

The union says there is still more work to be done.

Source: Twitter

We still have work to do to come to a full tentative agreement and we will resume doing so next week. Most of all, we are eager to get back to teaching our students and helping them finish up the spring semester.