The second day of the historic Rutgers University workers strike again played out along several tracks, with negotiations between the two sides ongoing in Trenton as picket lines continue to swell, aided by near perfect weather this week, at locations across the school’s campuses in New Brunswick, Camden and Newark.
After a late night of talks April 10, the two sides reconvened at the State House in Trenton Tuesday, a move brokered by Gov. Phil Murphy and his staff, with mediators and negotiators gathering throughout the day. Those talks again continued late into the night – with no deal reached as of publication of this story – and are expected to continue Wednesday in the capital city.
The story also played out on the radio airwaves Tuesday, which just so happened to be Murphy’s monthly call-in radio show, “Ask Governor Murphy,” produced by WBGO, WHYY and WNYC, and hosted by Nancy Solomon. Of course, the Rutgers strike was top of mind, allowing an opportunity to hear some of the latest from the governor himself.
“First of all, I said publicly what I said to them privately. I’m not happy,” Murphy told Solomon. “It shouldn’t have come to this.”
The governor reiterated what he told reporters earlier this week when asked how students and their families should feel about the situation.
“They should be pissed off, and so am I,” Murphy stressed. “So, let there be no doubt about that.”
In characterizing where the talks were, Murphy said that some progress has been made but that there are enormous complexities to sort through on the economic and non-economic fronts of the negotiations. He pointed out that the membership is not a monolith, and that a huge part of the dynamic at play here is the full-time, tenured professors fighting for the part-timers, adjuncts and graduate students who do not have the same type of benefits and security.
“That’s to their credit, I have to say to the professors out there who are doing just that,” said Murphy. “I want to get a solution that exudes, that reeks fairness to all of the categories that we’re talking about, including the ones that have had a far less, good shake, as it were.”
Murphy said that while he is an eternal optimist, he acknowledged the complexities that need to be resolved, describing it as a lot of wood to chop.
“We’re going to keep everybody at the table. I said this publicly and privately,” Murphy told Solomon. “We’re going to stay there until we get this done. I can guarantee you we’re going deep into the night tonight [Tuesday]. And God willing, we get a deal. The room today acknowledged the complexity on both sides. It was actually a room of goodwill, which is encouraging, which you don’t always get. But again, I’m mad it came to this. But since it has come to this, let’s forget for a moment who shot John and figure out a fair result here that reeks of New Jersey’s values, particularly as it relates to the rights of those in unions. And that it’s a fair deal for everybody.”
“We are all still hard at work negotiating with the unions with the help of the Governor’s office,” Rutgers Spokesperson Dory Devlin told NJBIZ.
Right after the governor’s radio appearance, the striking unions – Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, and AAUP-BHSNJ – held their nightly 8 p.m. Zoom call to recap where things stood at the negotiation table and on the picket lines.
Amy Higer, president of Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union and a part-time lecturer in the political science department, kicked off the Zoom by noting how incredible the energy on the picket lines was Tuesday across the three campuses.
“We had an amazing day where I was in New Brunswick, and hundreds of people joined in a joyous celebration. I was on Cook/Douglas. We had music. We had a great turnout picketing,” said Higer. “It just kept getting bigger and bigger. And then we marched through New Brunswick to Winants Hall then to Voorhees Mall to College Ave. and picked up people along the way, had cars honking and music.”
Higer described it as a beautiful day and a beautiful picket.
“Let’s keep it up. It matters,” said Higer before the negotiating team from Trenton checked in with the latest update from the bargaining table.
Whitney Strub, an associate professor in the history department at Rutgers-Newark and member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, who has been in Trenton, nodded at the complexities of the negotiation and the many moving parts, but told members on the Zoom that progress was being made.
“We’ll get more detailed about that in the hours to come. But right now, that’s really our big message,” said Strub. “The other message the bargaining team collectively wants to express is our appreciation for Gov. Murphy’s intervention. We all listened to it on WNYC here in the room. And we had a big round of applause when he said, ‘New Jersey is a union state.’ We took that as a very positive sign, along with a lot of his other comments. We remain a united front when it comes to prioritizing our most vulnerable members, such as adjuncts and grad workers, and focusing on priorities that affect the community like bargaining for the common good.”
Strub said he expected another late night of negotiating at the bargaining table, but that the picket lines were inspiring as the negotiators were essentially stuck in the room for hours trying to hammer out a deal.
Catherine Monteleone, Rutgers AAUP-BHSNJ president and an allergist and immunologist who is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said that Tuesday was a better day and that the two sides had a chance to discuss the economic and non-economic issues.
“We’ll see what happens. But at least our issues are in the room,” said Monteleone. “We spoke about not just comp, but our other issues that are really important. And we’re all in solidarity here. We’re all moving forward together. And that’s the big issue.”
David Letwin, executive board representative for the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union and an instructor at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, stressed how important the picket lines are to this process.
“We had said from the very beginning that we weren’t going to win our contract at the bargaining table. We were going to win it with the power we generated outside the bargaining table,” said Letwin. “And you are all proving that every minute. It’s been extremely exciting and inspirational to see. And you are going to win this contract – faculty, staff, community members, students – all in alliance. You are going to bring home this contract to us. So, thanks for all the great work. It’s incredibly inspirational to see how the strike has grown. It will grow more in the coming days. Keep it all up, in solidarity from Trenton.”
Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT and an associate professor at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, closed out the update from Trenton by reiterating how the picket lines are fueling them at the negotiating table.
“It’s keeping us going. These days are long. It’s hard. We spend a lot of time waiting, and then we have to think fast,” said Givan. “We expect a late night tonight. We don’t think we’ll have a contract tonight. But we’ll be back in the morning. And we feel good. We feel like we’re getting to a better place. We feel hopeful and I feel like we’re going to win. We’re going to win a contract that works for the most vulnerable, for our communities, for our students.”
And those negotiations continue Wednesday in Trenton.
Another interesting note that came out of Murphy’s radio show to keep an eye on was in response to a question by Solomon about whether the state can play a role in bridging the gap financially.
“Governor, can you do something to help Rutgers come to the table and be able to offer more in terms of the state budget and funding for the university,” Solomon asked.
“As a general matter, yes. I don’t want to get into the details because we’re in the middle of that as we speak,” said Murphy. “We are there, not just in person and in a convening capacity. We are there in meaningful, substantive way. I’ll leave it at that. But the answer is yes. We are playing a role here and we intend to play a role to get this done right.”
Stay with NJBIZ for the latest as this developing story continues to play out.