NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (PIX11) — A labor strike affecting nearly 80,000 people and their families across New Jersey had loomed for nearly a year as representatives for both the Rutgers University administration and its teaching staff failed to reach an agreement. On Thursday, the strike threat became a reality, with professors, lecturers, instructors, and other faculty at New Jersey’s largest university saying that it was a necessity.
Elisheba Haqq-Stevens, a research writing instructor, was one of hundreds of people on picket lines at the New Brunswick campus on Monday. She said that job security for non-tenured faculty is tenuous, at best.
“We have to get a [personal] contract every single semester,” she said, adding, “There’s no healthcare benefits” for part-time faculty.
The picket lines were not only at various locations on the flagship campus in New Brunswick, but were also active on the Rutgers campuses in Newark and Camden.
The labor dispute affects 67,000 students, with 9,000 Rutgers employees on strike. They said that need higher pay, and more benefits.
Picketers from the three labor unions representing Rutgers instructors came together for an early afternoon rally, at which they said that a living wage is what they’re seeking.
That kind of income was estimated by union officials to be at least $40,000. An in-depth analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows the figure to be at about $36,000. In any case, speakers at the union rally said that the earnings that many of them make are below the living wage, however it’s calculated, especially for graduate student instructors like Michelle Ling.
“Unfortunately,” she said as she addressed the crowd at the rally, “the average grad on this campus makes between 20- and 30-thousand dollars a year.”Gov. Phil Murphy has brought both the strikers and the administration of the state university to the negotiating table at the capitol in Trenton. However, the status of the negotiations did not seem rosy on Monday evening, despite Gov. Murphy saying in a tweet that he expected them to have “a productive dialogue.”
For its part, Rutgers University released a statement on the strike situation, that said that the university is open. However, the statement admitted, its campuses are not open as usual. It also said that “the university may seek an injunction in court to compel a return to normal activities.”
In the meantime, the activities have been curtailed significantly, as Ethan Prabhu, a sophomore, said. “It’s actually crazy,” he said. “I’ve had three classes today, and two of them were canceled. We’re actually waiting to see if the professor will show up for the third one.”
Some other students joined the picket lines in support of their instructors. Noor, a senior who did not want to give her last name, said that being on the picket line promotes a situation that strengthens the university by strengthening its teaching staff. “Without having a contract, without making a living wage that lives up to how inflation has grown over the past few years,” she said, “it reflects on how they’re able to perform in the classroom.”
On the first day of the strike, no students expressed opposition to it to PIX11 News. Still, some students said they were concerned about the days ahead, with graduation set for just over a month from now.
Rushil Patel, a senior, said that he wasn’t sure if he’d get full credit for his courses if the strike lasts for a long time.
“This is my last semester,” Patel said. “I already have an offer letter [for a job]. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the offer if I have to take the whole semester again.”