Rutgers strike suspended after winning victories through struggle

On April 15, the three faculty unions at Rutgers University suspended their five-day strike after a framework for a new contract was agreed to on April 14.  Members of the three unions still need to vote to ratify the contract. The framework includes an increase in salaries for full-time faculty and counselors by at least 14% by July 1, 2025, a 43.8% increase in the per-credit salary rate for part-time lecturers over four years, and a minimum of a 27.9% increase for postdoctoral students over four years.

The biomedical faculty of AAUP-BHSNJ are still fighting for the establishment of a family leave policy and a child care subsidy for graduate workers and adjunct faculty are still fighting for access to health insurance.  

Nine thousand members of three faculty unions, the Rutgers AAUP-AFT (American Association of Union Professors and the American Federation of Teachers), the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, and the AAUP-BHSNJ (The American Association of University Professors, Council of Chapters and Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey) went on strike for the first time in the university’s over 250-year history on April 10. The strike took place at eight locations of the university’s three campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, NJ. The demonstrations were organized by students, staff, faculty and alumni. The Rutgers AAUP-AFT includes full-time faculty, part-time lecturers, grad workers, postdoctoral associates, counselors, seasonal instructors and retirees. Rutgers workers were striking for fair salaries, job security for all, guaranteed grad support, control over scheduling, and affordable housing for students, members and communities. 

Erin Santana, a PhD candidate in the American Studies department, who has worked at Rutgers for six years, shared that for graduate workers the minimum wage is $30,000, while a living wage in the area is $47,000: “I honestly don’t think I know of a single grad that doesn’t have at least one side job to make ends meet. On top of that, not only is there a contradiction within a single calendar year of being paid a sub-living wage for more than a full time workload and being told you can’t or shouldn’t take on more work, but then the programs themselves take at least five or six years to finish, and very few of the programs actually guarantee five full years of funding. So from year to year, you’re having to re-secure funding, reapply for funding; some years people don’t get any funding, and so then they have to get another job or many grads actually become part-time lecturers in order to continue working on their degree. So it’s this very inherently, precarious situation … And again, the rhetoric is, ‘You should be grateful to be getting anything to finish a PhD.’ But the reality is that that ensures that the only people who are able to consistently get PhDs are going to be people who already have existing wealth, who already have some sort of support to fall back on, who are more likely to be white, who are wealthier people to begin with, and so that just perpetuates the wealthy white academy, and male academy, quite frankly, that Rutgers allegedly has been trying to push back against.” 

Meanwhile, Rutgers University, like many other large corporations, made record profits during the 2020 to 2021 COVID pandemic. During that time, the administration’s financial reserves increased by 40% to a record high.

Throughout the strike, various campus community members as well as supporters, including some from CUNY and NYU, have been coming out to show their support for the strike with marches, songs and chants, teach-ins and speeches. Supporters sang “Solidarity Forever” and chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, these low wages have got to go! What do we want? Contracts! Whose university? Our university! Rutgers is for education, We are not a corporation.” On April 13, PSL member and Rutgers alumni Brayan Zambrano spoke to a crowd of supporters at the Newark campus. 

“It didn’t just happen, right? Rutgers didn’t just show up out of nowhere. The reason why Rutgers is the university that it is, is because of the work that you people do! It’s because of that work that Rutgers has the reputation, has the institution, and has all of the caliber that makes up what Rutgers is. Rutgers isn’t a building, Rutgers isn’t a place, Rutgers is the community of people that makes Rutgers run.” Attendees in the crowd then yelled, “We are the university!” 

Brayan continued, “It’s us. It’s us who are making this university the great place that it is. We have to remember that, because when we’re out here having to rally, having to struggle for a living wage, this is the history of our class, this is a working-class struggle, this is the struggle for liberation. It’s because we live under a capitalist system that literally funnels money to the top, that we don’t have the means to just be able to survive. So this fight isn’t something that is just going to stay here at Rutgers. There are communities all across the state that are going through for the same thing. There are people who would love to be here, but can’t be here. The fact that we are here is powerful. And I want you to understand that. I want you to feel that power. And I want you to try to bring friends, family and whoever you can bring out here to join in this because this IS class being in session, to be honest! Because when I was at university, there wasn’t a labor struggle going on. You don’t realize the fact that no one is just going to just give you a living wage. You have to struggle for it. THIS is how you get a living wage.”

This landmark accomplishment was only achieved by the disciplined organizing and fierce pushback of the 9,000 workers who demonstrated the immense power the working class has when we withhold our labor. The Rutgers strike is part of a larger movement of militant union organizing taking place in a country that once flourished with many healthy, strong unions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, union membership in America is only at around 10%. With rising inflation, cost of living, and low wages nationwide, we can only look to ourselves to demand that more of our hard won wages are returned to us from the greedy clutches of our bosses! When we dare to struggle, we dare to win!

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