Contract Disputes Cause Faculty Frustration

Photo by Nicole Williams

On June 30, the state of New Jersey allowed their labor contract with the faculty and staff of New Jersey state institutions to expire. The American Federation of Teacher’s union, or AFT, sought to extend its 2011 contract with the state through the Department of Employee Relations, but the proposal was ultimately rejected. With the current absence of a contract, many faculty members are worried about the immediate future of their work at Ramapo College.

“With a contract you have multiple matters of concern such as wages/benefits as well as working conditions,” said professor Martha Ecker, president of the local AFT branch at Ramapo. "Historically, under normal labor relations law, the provisions of the pre-existing contract are observed until a new contract can be made. However, the state has gone on the record to say that they will not observe all of the provisions of the previous contract during this lapsed period."

The state of New Jersey has already decided to stop observing provisions such as eye care, career development and tuition reimbursement. Ramapo College, a part of the AFT Council of New Jersey State College Locals, is currently in negotiations for new contracts along with 10 other state institutions.

“All we are looking for are fair contracts for the faculty and library staff at the state colleges,” Steve Young, the executive director of the AFT council, said.

Young criticized Governor Chris Christie’s administration for cuts that were detrimental to the proposed contract.

The AFT council is seeking to return to increment based raises, salary increases and many other proposals that would allow for language in the current contract to be rectified.

“Money is an important issue,” said Young.

Christie has referred to the AFT as "the single most destructive force in public education in America."

While stressing the importance of money, Young also went on to say that the contract provides protection for New Jersey professors and library staff. They want to ensure that any new contract continues to build on the protections of its 2011 predecessor.

Professor Ecker pointed to raises, stating that “under the previous contract we had steps where people would get raises after a specific anniversary date, although in the preceding contract we did not get a raise every single year; now the state could be ignoring that in the lapsed condition we find ourselves in.”

Young described a hard line stance from the Christie administration.

“The state comes back to us with zeros and cuts,” he said.

In addition to the lack of fulfillment in implementing the increment raise structure, the AFT also argues that the language of the contract is reflected to work against faculty and staff in regards to “grievance procedures and policy procedures.”

The last contract took about 14 months to complete, according to Young. 

 “We are planning on holding demonstrations over time – state wide to bring attention to the contract negotiations," Young said.  

In previous contract disputes, the state has advocated some proposals that the AFT has found to be onerous, such as redefining the academic year to end on June 30, requiring faculty to return to campus after graduation for further duties, reducing the number of tenured faculty conditions via an increase in allowance of non-renewable teaching contracts, as well as eliminating just cause reasons for termination during multiyear contract periods.   

“Our salaries were frozen at the point when the contract expired, which compounded with the increase faculty have to pay for health benefits, actually led to some faculty wages decreasing,” said Ecker.