Skip to main content

Rutgers Strike Sends Professors to Picket Lines Chanting ‘RU Listening? We Are Picketing.’

Union members representing three Rutgers University unions took to picket lines on Monday morning as 9,000 members went on strike.

Union members representing three Rutgers University unions took to picket lines on Monday morning as 9,000 members went on strike in an unprecedented standoff with the school’s leadership over a contract impasse that has left the faculty without a contract since last summer.

Striking union members gathered on the Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick, near the law school in Newark and at other locations on the New Brunswick-Piscataway and Camden campuses.

“RU listening? We are picketing,” the picketers chanted in New Brunswick.

“Rutgers is for education, we are not a corporation” the crowd chanted at picket lines in Newark, before taking aim at the university’s president. “Holloway you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”

Among the most prominent protesters Monday morning in New Brunswick was Donna M. Chiern, the president of AFT-NJ, one of the three unions striking.

“We seem to be investing more in non-academic areas than we are in education,” she said, referring to the amount of money poured into Rutgers athletics. “We gave a DoorDash account to football players but so many of our students who go to this college are going to food kitchens and eating Ramen noodles and we’re not doing anything for them.”

Construction at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the New Brunswick campus halted as the head of a teamsters union said his members won’t cross the picket lines. He chanted alongside striking workers nearby.

“We just think it’s is outrageous that the president of the university cares more about sporting programs and the football stadium than the quality of education,” said Charles Wowkanech, President of the New Jersey AFL-CIO. “(President Jonathan Holloway) and his cronies have taken care of themselves, giving themselves raises. I think he should resign.”

The protesters included union members as well as non-union member students who are supporting the striking educators.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

“This deal the unions are proposing will benefit everyone as a whole for the future,” said Jakob Pender, a freshman who was out picketing on College Avenue early Monday. ”It’s super important. There’s a reason why after 257 years today is the first day we’re on strike”

Pender, who was wearing a union T-shirt, said he has a job on campus but it’s a non-union position. He said half of his classes are canceled and he was unsure about the other half because he didn’t receive word from his professors.

A doctoral student also weighed in on the strike.

The strike is about “a version of the university that doesn’t require precarity to exist, and systematic exploitation, particularly of adjunct and part time workers,” Aidan Selmer, a graduate student worker said.

Selmer and his partner Vianna Iorio are both in the fourth year of a six-year-long doctoral program in English. They were picketing alongside their dog, Hester, who was wearing a “Waggin’ 4 Fair Wages” t-shirt and enjoying the friendly attention from fellow protestors.

The picketing on Monday is expected to continue until 5 p.m.

Union leaders have a daily 8 p.m. Zoom call to give members updates on negotiations with the university.

The three striking unions, which have been working without a contract since July 1, are: Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and some counselors; the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, which represents part-time lecturers; and the AAUP-BHSNJ, which includes faculty in the biomedical and health sciences at Rutgers’ medical, dental, nursing, and public health schools.

Faculty members at the medical and other health sciences schools will continue performing essential research and patient care, but will curtail duties that will not impact patient health and safety, the union said.

Some of Rutgers’ other large unions said its workers will stay on the job, even if the faculty are on strike.

The Union of Rutgers Administrators–AFT, which represents administrative and professional employees, said last week that it will not ask its members to walk off their jobs in a sympathy strike with the faculty. But the union said its members can show support by walking in picket lines and attending rallies outside of work hours.

The Health Professionals and Allied Employees said it supports the strike but will not walk off the job. “HPAE is still at the table demanding a fair contract and we are not currently calling a strike authorization vote,” it said in a statement. “If our union chooses to consider a strike in the future, the subject will come to the members in meetings and a membership vote.”

A labor history expert says the Rutgers strike is the most impactful in at least a generation.

“Without a doubt the Rutgers strike is the largest — and most significant — public sector strike in New Jersey in the last 30 years,” said Chris Rhomberg, a sociology professor at Fordham University, who specializes in labor history. 

He said the Newark teachers’ strikes of 1970 and 1971 were a turning point in state history, resulting in hundreds of arrests, but the exact number of strikers was unclear. According to Rhomberg, the Jersey City public school teachers went out in 2018 with around 3,800 workers, and the Robert Wood Johnson hospital workers in New Brunswick went on strike in 2006 with 1,200.

Meanwhile, Holloway said Sunday he believes the two sides are close to an agreement and the university will continue to negotiate.

“To say that this is deeply disappointing would be an understatement,” Holloway said of the unions’ decision to strike. “The continued academic progress of our students is our number one concern, and we will do all that we can so that their progress is not impeded by a strike.”

But union officials disagreed with Holloway’s assessment that the two sides are close to a deal, said AAUW-AFT spokesman Alan Maas. A union chart on the status of the negotiations shows nine out of 15 union proposals were largely or entirely rejected by the university and one was ignored as of Sunday.

NJ Advance Media staff writer Jeff Goldman contributed to this report.