In case America needed a reminder about the potential of organized labor, eight thousand faculty and graduate workers at Rutgers University came away from years of fighting with a historic contract.
After years of organizing and a threatened strike, Rutgers’ local AAUP-AFT came away with a tentative agreement that not only brings groundbreaking economic concessions from the corporate university, but new ground on issues of gender and race as well.
Rutgers faculty was emboldened by the recent wave of teacher strikes to sweep the nation.
“They had shown that strikes work and if you struggle you can win,” said union president Deepa Kumar. “What we accomplished wasn’t simply because of our work and organizing philosophy but because our approach fit in with the mood among educators across the country.”
And that truly is a nationwide sentiment. From West Virginia to Kentucky to Arizona, from Washington to South Carolina and Oklahoma, teachers are organizing over dismal pay and constant political attacks.
And while Rutgers faculty were able to redress some of those issues, they went further — addressing issues of inequity based on gender and race.
“Deans used to be able to refuse such equity corrections for all sorts of reasons including the lack of funds, and our female and POC colleagues had no recourse to protest such decisions,” said Kumar. “Now we have a process with many levels going up to the very top of the university. And if the result is still not favorable, women and people of color as well as other oppressed groups may file a grievance whose result will be enforceable.”
Kumar said this was a historic first for higher education unions, and won’t just protect current Rutgers faculty, but faculty for years to come. The policies also apply to queer and disabled faculty as well as those subject to other systemic disenfranchisement.
The agreement awaits ratification by union members in the coming week.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.