(NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.) — Thousands of academic workers at Rutgers University, including professors and graduate student workers, launched a strike on Monday, picketing outside of campus buildings and urging colleagues to forego teaching classes.
The strike marks the first in the university’s nearly 257-year history, according to a group of unions representing the workers.
Contract negotiations began nearly one year ago for some 9,000 workers represented by three unions participating in the strike, the unions said.
The unions are seeking salary increases that keep up with inflation, a $15 minimum wage for campus workers, longer contracts for non-tenured faculty, five years of guaranteed funding for graduate students and a new set of standards for racial and gender equity, among other demands.
Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway voiced dissatisfaction on Sunday in response to the impending strike.
“To say that this is deeply disappointing would be an understatement,” Holloway said in a letter posted online. “We have all been hard at work trying to resolve issues around compensation, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.”
The disruption of classes at Rutgers University, where 67,000 students study, prompted New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, to call for a “productive dialogue” between the university and workers in his office on Monday.
In one of several protests on Monday morning, 50 faculty, graduate and undergraduate students marched in a picket line outside of the student center on the Rutgers University satellite campus in Livingston, New Jersey, Sebastian León, an assistant professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, told ABC News.
The picketing amounts to “a full-time job from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on every campus across multiple shifts,” León said, noting workers’ plans to supply protesters with food, water bottles, safety gear and sunscreen.
“We hope that the strike produces extra impetus to settle a fair and a reasonable contract,” he added.
León, who began teaching at Rutgers University in 2018, said he supports the strike because the workers’ contract proposal aims to break down a “pretty messed up hierarchy” between full-time faculty, adjunct professors and graduate students.
“I’ve been an adjunct where you’re basically sub-human – your opinion and professional views don’t count,” he said. “You’re lucky to have your own office and place to store your papers.”
The university has offered to raise the minimum salary for postdoctoral fellows and associates in the faculty union by more than 20% over the contract period, Holloway said in a statement on Sunday.
“Significant and substantial progress has been made, as I have noted, and I believe that there are only a few outstanding issues,” Holloway added. “We will, of course, negotiate for as long as it takes.”
León said he had heard of some faculty opting to teach on Monday, despite the strike. However, he said the workers participating in the strike understand that the protest could last several days or longer.
“This is a full-time organizing job that we’ll be doing as long as it takes,” he said. “We’re not asking for new iPads or brand new buildings or a second car.”
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