Union leaders representing 9,000 Rutgers University faculty members said Wednesday that a final deal on a new contract could be possible by the end of the week — but only if the university administration negotiators keep up momentum and show urgency to close a few issues that remain on the table.
Three faculty unions have tried to ramp-up the pace of negotiations with the university since April 15 when they secured key victories that paused a one-week strike and resumed classes.
Now, as the end of the semester looms with final exams starting on May 4, faculty members under increasing pressure to sign a contract have shifted some of that pressure onto Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway by floating the possibility of a no-confidence vote in him.
The university senate, an advisory body of elected members representing faculty, staff, alumni, and students, has drafted a resolution that could result in a vote of no-confidence in Holloway if negotiations aren’t wrapped up by Tuesday night.
The senate will seek support this week from its members for a possible vote of no-confidence next week, said Paul Boxer, a tenured professor of psychology on the Rutgers-Newark campus and elected senate representative. The senate is independent of the unions in negotiations, but both groups represent the same pool of faculty members.
Holloway is not legally bound to respond to a senate vote or its resolutions, but the senate’s clout lies in the fact that it represents the Rutgers community and its entire faculty.
The three unions secured key victories after a strike that shut down most classes on the university’s three campuses for a week earlier this month. They paused the strike after securing concessions following the Murphy administration intervening.
A contract, after it is worked out, will still need to be ratified with a full vote by union members.
There are few issues remaining to be addressed but they are critical, said Rebecca Givan, tenured professor and president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.
She said she was not optimistic about landing a deal by Saturday, but that it was still entirely possible if there is enough will on the part of the university. Faculty members want to approach finals without the possibility of a strike being called again, or protests resuming on Rutgers Day this weekend and during commencement.
“We certainly could [come to a deal] but today is 300 days without a contract and our members feel more frustrated than optimistic at this point because it’s taken so much longer than it has needed to,” Givan said.
“After how long its been dragging on, union members are still prepared to take action if it’s not done,” Givan said. “They want it to be done by the end of the week, but they’re also looking ahead at Rutgers Day this weekend and the end of semester and hoping they don’t have to take action,” Givan said.
Rutgers University officials said Wednesday that the administration was “optimistic” that these disruptions would not have to take place.
“We are hopeful that a final resolution will be out in the coming days,” said Rutgers spokesperson Dory Devlin, noting that the university “is optimistic that our students can complete the semester without interruption,” while doing the “arduous” work of “simultaneously negotiating contracts with multiple bargaining units.”
Remaining issues to reach agreement on include securing tenure-like academic freedoms in the contract for medical faculty members who work for Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, and ironing out details of a full-five-year funding commitment for graduate student workers to finish their doctorates.
Faculty unions in daily negotiations expressed frustration at the pace of bargaining after they returned to New Brunswick – though some of that frustration faded when medical faculty secured 14 weeks of parental weeks late Friday.
A week earlier, fast-paced deal-making in Trenton with the help of mediators and Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff resulted in union members pausing the strike and classes resuming April 15.
Givan, who chairs bargaining on behalf of the unions, said she had not seen a shift in terms of urgency from the university administrators to arrive at a contract since the two sides announcing a framework deal in Trenton. “Winning the framework was significant and covered a lot of the economic needs of our members. But we have been working on significant non-economic issues, which still make a difference to our members’ lives and the well-being of the university,” Givan said.
The resulting deal required concessions on the part of the best-paid faculty unions, who refused to accept a contract that did not address the most vulnerable and low-paid part-time faculty, medical faculty and graduate workers.
“I think the best-paid group, which is primarily the tenured faculty, were clear that even at this time of very high inflation, they weren’t going to push for the highest pay increase if some of that money could be transferred to graduate workers and adjunct faculty who are so exploited and under-paid, and that is in fact what we’ve done, and that is really heartening,” Givan said. “Our better-off members have said that this is extremely important to them.”
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