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Pyrrhic victory for Rutgers University adjuncts splits union

in Career & Retirement/Education & Healthcare by

In June, Rutgers University adjunct union representatives announced that its body of part-time lecturers (PTLs) approved the 2018-2022 contract offered by administration for a scalable pay increase.

Historic, yes. Progressive, well, perhaps not for some.

In the end, 31 percent of voters did not agree with the contract. From there, detractors formed a rank-and-file caucus to ensure their desire for “a more democratic, more united union fighting for its members.”

Although, the newly formed rank-and-file is still finding its footing, they put a noticeable dent in the PTL union. Now members encourage colleagues that represent their interest to run for office, which ends Monday, June 24.

A tale of two contract interpretations

Eleven days before PTLs voted on the contract presented by Rutgers Administration, a “vote no” campaign launched to reject the deal.

According to them, the contract did not meet any of the demands made: increase pay to $7,250 per 3-credit course; provide affordable health benefits; and assist in creating a path for career advancement.

Soon after the “vote no” correspondence, PTL union president, Teresa Politano and David Chapman, the vice-president, sent emails to long-time employees encouraging them to approve the ratified contract.

The beginning of the email stated. “Because you are a long-time employee at Rutgers, you are eligible for substantial increases thanks to the recently negotiated agreement by your union leaders.”

The message created a divide with new adjunct professors or those who worked less than the time to promote, which is majority of part-time lecturers who are often students or lecturing intermittently. As well, a disproportionate amount of people of color and women who did not acquire tenure track positions work as adjuncts.

On the caucus’ site, they explain. “The backgrounds of adjuncts vary. Some have been teaching for decades. Some are still in graduate school. Adjuncts at Rutgers are different races, genders, and come from many socioeconomic backgrounds from all corners of the world.”

For most PTL employees, the 15 weeks of pay that earned them $5,134 was not a livable wage. The $155 increase suggested by Rutgers would equal to a few more dollars after taxes.

However, Rutgers PTL union leadership said that the contract provided better terms for lecturers.

About two years before, the PTL Union joined forces with full-time faculty to fight for livable wages and benefits. While most of full-time faculty’s demands were met in April, part-timers were forced to fight longer for a contract.

The amended terms offered a stratified appointment for employees who taught 12 or more semesters become eligible for a pay increase and promotion. The next and final tier are those who taught 24 more semesters, which is 12 years, if the traditional school year is observed without teaching in the summer.

Promotion would also be based on performance and evaluation, which is unstable terrain for women and faculty of color who are more than likely than to be given lower evaluations than white colleagues, and those who are male. The lowest scoring professors are Black women, leaving their potential to promote under uncertain circumstances.

As well, Rutgers agreed to earmark $300,000 for professional development pursuits over the three years remaining in the contract. Currently, PTLs teach a little over 30 percent of all courses at a Big Ten school with over 50,000 students, leaving the budget meager at best.

As votes get cast for the new union leadership, the rank-and-file will continue to challenge their union to fight for more equitable wages and an overall better working environment at Rutgers and other universities.

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