Rutgers strikes shut down campuses

Over the past week, Rutgers University’s many campuses were crowded with students lounging around in the warm weather, a great deal of day parties or “dages” and protesters with placards that read “we R on strike.”

Rutgers University adjunct professors, graduate workers and other full-time faculty have been speaking out about their low wages for a while now. They have tried to negotiate with the Rutgers administration and University President Jonathan Holloway for about a year at this point.

In March, the Rutgers workers unions voted in approval of a strike and on April 10, these unions had started picketing on all three of Rutgers major campuses including Camden, New Brunswick and Newark.

These unions represent about 9,000 faculty members and the strike affects about 67,000 students across New Jersey. The unions striking are American Association of University Professors American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), representing full-time faculty, graduate workers and postdoctoral associates, the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, representing part-time lecturers, and the American Association of University Professors Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey, representing faculty in the biomedical and health sciences.

According to CBS News, the unions were looking for adjunct faculty to have “significant” pay increases and pay raises for graduate student workers. For adjunct and nontenure-track faculty, they are looking for more job security in addition to better union representation for graduate workers.

Students are left to wander aimlessly and relax as professors refuse to host classes. Photo by Jessica Hammer

The fourth day of the strike was the hottest day of the week, but protests were still in full swing. With their classes canceled, students gathered in Voorhees Mall, a giant courtyard bordered by now empty classroom buildings due to protesting faculty.

When asked about how the strike was affecting her academics, Rutgers-New Brunswick sophomore Aditi Hariharan said, “A lot of my professors are on strike so my workload is a little bit less than usual, but I feel like this is just much needed, so I’m not really against it academically.”

Hariharan was among the many Rutgers students picnicking, playing frisbee and sunbathing in hammocks on the lawn of Voorhees Mall. Some students climbed trees to get a better view of the picketers chanting “up with the wages” while pacing the courtyard in front of Scott Hall. 

“The wages reflect the effort put in by the teacher’s assistants and other staff,” said Rutgers-New Brunswick sophomore Madyson Conway, “If they are not being paid enough, they will not willingly work harder to give us a better education.”

During this day of the strike, protesters marched from Voorhees Mall to the Rutgers Alumni House, which is a mansion that houses President Holloway. One student had a hand-made sign that read “R tuition should go to faculty, not football.” 

Students like Izzy Bonvini, a senior at Rutgers-New Brunswick, picketed with their professors and felt comfortable with the decision to cancel classes. “It gave me the opportunity to join the picket lines,” they said.

On Saturday, the strike was suspended, as Rutgers administration agreed to work with the union after a week of paused classes and picket lines. Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted that the unions and Rutgers administration reached a “fair and amicable conclusion.”

According to NPR, the university plans to increase the salaries for graduate workers and part-time lecturers. They also agreed to strengthen job security for other adjunct and part-time faculty.

Classes resumed on Monday now that the strike has been suspended and graduating students are hopeful. “I’m not worried about falling behind or being unable to graduate in a few weeks,” said Bonvini.

Despite classes starting up again, not everyone is happy about the negotiation’s outcome. In an online announcement from AAUP-AFT, they stated that there are issues that remain unresolved and that they “will continue putting significant pressure on the Rutgers administration to meet [their] needs.” The Rutgers unions are open to unsuspending the strike and taking their signs back to the picket line if their demands aren’t met.

Featured photo by Jessica Hammer