Talks between striking unions and administrators at Rutgers University continued Tuesday in Trenton, with Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff intervening to help resolve the stalemate.
In the meantime, faculty and other teaching staff continued to strike and shut down classes for a second day.
Educators, librarians, researchers and clinicians from three unions representing 9,000 members chanted protests and marched with placards at picket lines in the university’s campuses at Newark, Camden and New Brunswick.
While most classes have been canceled, some faculty continue to teach and are not participating in the strike.
In New Brunswick, student-transporting buses still run and buildings are open, but the campus was clearly missing the rush of students trying to get to classes or filling the cafeterias. The occasional noise came from picketers and protesters.
The first full day of negotiations on Monday in Murphy’s offices in Trenton was spent mostly on fact finding, said some union members who hoped that more progress would be made Tuesday. The Murphy administration appears to have intervened on both sides when it became clear a strike was unavoidable.
University President Jonathan Holloway said in an email on Monday to Rutgers’ students and faculty that he was delaying seeking a court-ordered stoppage to the strike at the governor’s personal request. Murphy’s staff had also tried to delay the strike on Sunday, but too much momentum had already built among members.
“The Governor also asked me personally to delay taking legal action asking the courts to order strikers back to work,” he wrote, but if negotiations in Trenton do not make progress, he will pursue legal action, Holloway said.
“We will have no choice but to take legal action to assure the continued academic progress of our students and prevent irreparable harm,” he said, repeating a position he has taken in earlier emails.
The unions’ message on Tuesday, in response to Holloway’s email was: “We hope that Governor Murphy will influence the Holloway administration to finally take bargaining seriously.”
He asked students to continue attending classes and do coursework and asked faculty to teach. The university’s academic buildings and libraries remain open, Holloway said.
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The striking unions criticized Holloway’s message, saying he “again resorted to union-busting tactics and threats,” even as Murphy has publicly said he wants the groups to come to an agreement and return the campus to normal.
The unions also insisted they are committed to peaceful demonstrations, responding to Holloway saying in his email that the university received reports “of classes being disrupted by protesters.”
It is not clear who disrupted classes, said a senior union member, but there were instances of students walking out. Picket captains are trained to direct non-violent, peaceful protests, the union leader said, and this was a priority because there are children, pets and other community members.
Union members have said despite movement in some areas, the university’s other counter proposals clearly rejected the unions’ basic premise to bring equity into faculty hiring and wages.
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The university serves more than 67,000 students across its three campuses and there appears to be wide support among students for the faculty strike. “We’ve had an overwhelming number of students coming to the picket lines to show their support,” said union representative Alan Maas on Tuesday.
Members of the Rutgers One coalition consisting of students and community members speaking at a rally on the first day of the strike said they supported the unions’ “common good” proposals demanding university-sponsored affordable housing and freezing campus housing rates to put pressure on private landlords in New Brunswick to lower rents.
The union has also asked for forgiveness of certain fines and student fees that prevent students from registering and graduating.
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