Skip to content
View Featured Image

Rutgers Faculty Declares Strike In Historic Showdown

Leaders of three Rutgers University faculty unions declared a strike Sunday, saying negotiations have stalled over new contracts for the 9,000 Rutgers University professors, part-time lecturers and graduate student workers they represent at the state’s largest university.

The strike is one of the largest faculty walkouts in U.S. higher education history and is expected to disrupt classes for more than 67,000 students on Rutgers’ New Brunswick-Piscataway, Newark and Camden campuses.

“Our boards voted unanimously that we will be going on strike tomorrow,” Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Rebecca Givan told her members in an 8:30 p.m. online meeting attended by thousands of professors and other faculty members.

This is the first faculty strike at Rutgers since the school’s founding in 1766. The walkout is expected to disrupt the majority of in-person and online classes as students head into their last few weeks of the spring semester before finals and commencement next month.

Picket lines will go up on all three Rutgers campuses at 9 a.m. Monday, union officials said. The unions plan to hold a joint rally at 1 p.m. Monday on Voorhees Mall near College Avenue on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus.

“We take this very seriously,” Givan said. “We are not getting anywhere and we need to do something more, and so our boards have decided that we will stand together … and take this momentous step.”

Rutgers officials said students should stay on campus and go to class, even if their professors are on strike.

“The university is open and operating, and classes are proceeding on a normal schedule,” Rutgers said on its strike information page. Students were told to go to Canvas, the school’s course management website, to see if their classes will still meet and how to complete their assignments.

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said he believes the two sides are close to an agreement and the university will continue to negotiate.

“To say that this is deeply disappointing would be an understatement,” Holloway said of the unions’ decision to strike. “The continued academic progress of our students is our number one concern, and we will do all that we can so that their progress is not impeded by a strike.”

Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement calling for the union and the university to meet with his administration Monday at the Statehouse.

“Rutgers University is one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning,” Murphy said in the statement Sunday night soon after the strike announcement. “I am calling the University and union bargaining committees to meet in my office tomorrow to have a productive dialogue.”

Holloway previously said he believes a Rutgers faculty strike is illegal and the university could go to court to seeking to force professors and the teaching staff to return to work.

However, two sources with knowledge of the talks said late Sunday that Rutgers officials will not immediately go to court to ask a judge for an injunction to end the strike. Instead, university negotiators will continue bargaining in hopes of reaching a deal quickly.

The decision to strike followed days of marathon negotiations as the two sides tried to reach a deal, but stalled on several key issues. On Saturday, a mediator was brought in to try to help bring the two sides closer to a settlement.

Prior to the strike, university officials said Rutgers student residence halls, bus service, dining, counseling, and other services would remain open. Students were also told they should be prepared to attend classes, even if their professors were on strike.

The striking unions, which have been working without a contract since July 1, are: Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and some counselors; the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, which represents part-time lecturers; and the AAUP-BHSNJ, which includes faculty in the biomedical and health sciences at Rutgers’ medical, dental, nursing, and public health schools.

Faculty members at the medical and other health sciences schools will continue performing essential research and patient care, but will curtail duties that will not impact patient health and safety, the union said.

Some of Rutgers’ other large unions said its workers will stay on the job, even if the faculty are on strike.

The Union of Rutgers Administrators–AFT, which represents administrative and professional employees, said last week that it will not ask its members to walk off their jobs in a sympathy strike with the faculty. But the union said its members can show support by walking in picket lines and attending rallies outside of work hours.

Rutgers’ Health Professionals and Allied Employees union also told members to continue to report to work, even though it supports the faculty strike.

It also cautioned Rutgers’ unionized administrative and professional employees not to take on any of the work of striking professors and teaching staff. “Their absence must be felt by Rutgers in order for their strike to be effective,” the URA-AFT’s statement said.

Holloway, the Rutgers president, told the university community last week that the school had offered to increase salaries for full-time faculty members, teaching assistants and graduate assistants by 12% by 2025.

The university offered an additional 3% lump-sum payment to all the faculty unions that would be paid over the first two years of the new contract, the president said. Rutgers has also proposed an approximately 20% increase in pay for adjuncts, who are compensated according to how many credits they teach each semester, and offered similar raises for postdoctoral fellows.

But, the union disagreed with Holloway’s assessment that the two sides are close to a deal, said AAUW-AFT spokesman Alan Maas. A union chart on the status of the negotiations shows 9 out of 15 union proposals were largely or entirely rejected by the university and one was ignored.

Union officials said they are still looking for agreements on better pay for adjunct faculty members and graduate workers, more job security for all teaching staff, pay that keeps up with inflation, affordable housing options for graduate students and forgiveness for students’ overdue fines and fees.

The union has also been bargaining for more equitable pay for teaching staff at Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark, where professors have long said they are underpaid compared to the counterparts on the main campus in New Brunswick.

The unions have also been pushing the Rutgers administration for more affordable healthcare options for faculty and standards for how much work faculty members must take on while working in the university’s clinical medical jobs.

Holloway angered many in the union during the negotiations by saying a faculty walkout would be illegal.

“To be clear, if a strike were to be called, the university would have no choice but to make every legal effort to ensure that any job action does not affect our students’ academic progress,” the president wrote in a message to the campus community prior to the strike announcement.

Union officials criticized Holloway’s stance, noting that while some case law supports it, there is no state law against strikes by public employees.

The unions are calling on members to show up in large numbers to picket on campus Monday.

Union leaders said picket lines would be set up near College Avenue in New Brunswick and at other key campus spots in Piscataway, Camden, and Newark. The unions also set up a strike fund for workers who may experience financial hardship without salaries.

Strikes in higher education are rare in New Jersey, but not nationally, said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

In 2016, 5,550 faculty working for the Penn State higher education system went on strike. Last year, a faculty strike at the New School in New York City lasted 25 days and a 2019 faculty strike at Wright State University in Ohio lasted 20 days.

Strikes at colleges have been more frequent in the wake of the pandemic, Herbert said. Last year, the University of California system was disrupted by a strike involving 48,000 graduate assistants.

Staff writer Kelly Heyboer contributed to this report.

Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.