Ramapo professors affected by AFT negotiations

In the past month, bold red, black and blue flyers with a white fist have been posted throughout the academic wings, on bulletin boards and on professors’ office doors. 

The flyers explain that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union’s contract with the state of New Jersey expired on June 30. Ramapo’s professional staff have been working without a contract since July, and negotiations have been underway since February.

The AFT represents professional staff at New Jersey’s state schools like Ramapo, including advisors, registrars, lecturers, adjunct faculty, librarians, and full-time and tenured faculty. 

At Ramapo, the Office of Employee Relations oversees the collective bargaining agreement between the AFT and the college. Representatives from the college did not respond to a request for comment at this time.

“The longer it takes to settle things, the more likely it is for employees to ‘work to contract.’ That is, to stop giving 110%: to do only the teaching and service absolutely required by the contract.”

– Ed Shannon, president of Ramapo’s AFT and professor of literature

The AFT’s contract addresses retirement, non-discrimination, health benefits and academic freedom — the right for educators to openly discuss the subjects of their choice. The 2019-2023 contract protected staff from institutional censorship and, under Article V, expected them to refrain from portraying themselves as “a spokesperson for the institution,” acknowledging them as both citizens and educators.

President of Ramapo’s AFT and professor of literature Ed Shannon highlighted how academic freedom has been under attack in recent years. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the increased push to ban books about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals worries many educators, including him. He shared an anecdote that he believes shows the importance of the protections the AFT offers.

“I met a Florida teacher at a union conference who was in danger of being fired because he was a married gay man who refused to keep silent about having a husband and a family. Fortunately, he taught in an AFT school, so he kept his job,” he said.

The AFT is also concerned with the treatment of adjunct professors — part-time faculty who work on a semesterly basis. They teach no more than two classes a semester and receive no benefits or office space.

Adjunct professor of environmental studies and Ramapo’s AFT Vice President of Adjunct Faculty Timothy Judge explained that job security is sparse for part-time faculty.

“Most adjuncts have other jobs, teaching at more than one college or have a professional position. I myself run an environmental consulting practice and have several projects underway,” he said in an email. “Teaching as an adjunct is always stressful because of the lack of job security and benefits.”

His role with the AFT involves him attending meetings with adjuncts from the other colleges that make up the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, as well as negotiation meetings with the state.

Judge explained that a fair contract is one that recognizes the significance of adjunct professors in higher education, pays them accordingly and offers them access to tools that support their professional development.

Shannon echoed this sentiment. “[The adjunct faculty] are full time instructors hired on one- or two-year contracts, and are not eligible for tenure. And ultimately, tenure is a protection not just for faculty—but for the ideas faculty are hired to teach.”

In April, the week-long strike of Rutgers University’s three labor unions was successful in securing salary increases for graduate workers and part-time lecturers and strengthened job security for part-time faculty. Despite this, the state has not offered the same improvements to part-time professors at other public colleges. 

While Shannon remains unsure about when the AFT and the state will come to an agreement, the likelihood of a strike is small.

The previous contract stated under its third article that the union “will refrain from any strike, work stoppage, slowdown, or other job action and will not support or condone any such job action” while the state “will refrain from locking out its employees or from any threat thereof.”

The contract also established a committee — which consists of one representative from each college, three council representatives and one representative from the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations — to promote positive employer-employee relationships.

Until a new contract is agreed upon, Ramapo will continue to feel the strain.

“The longer it takes to settle things, the more likely it is for employees to ‘work to contract.’ That is, to stop giving 110%: to do only the teaching and service absolutely required by the contract,” Shannon stated in an email. “You would be surprised how many extra hours a week faculty, advisors, counselors, librarians, and everyone puts in to make sure the semester keeps running.”




Featured photo by Rebecca Gathercole