A new contract between Rutgers University and some of its largest faculty and staff unions means that thousands of workers will avoid lay-offs until at least Jan. 1 next year in exchange for a series of other cuts.
The agreement dated March 24 calls for full-time employees in the union to take 10 furlough days by July 31, or eight days for part-time employees. Members of the AAUP-AFT chapter – which represents 5,000 Rutgers staff – would be furloughed for six days.
This arrangement is known typically as a “shared work program,” and according to a news release dated April 7, “the full income of almost all workers would be protected through state and federal unemployment benefits, thanks to the $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement extended in the COVID relief law.”
The contract announced Tuesday is with just five of the university’s 19 unions, according to the news release. The AAUP-AFT chapters for Rutgers administrators and part-time lecturers are also covered under the agreement, as are the Local 1031 chapter of the Communications Workers of America, and several local chapters of the Health Professional Allied Employees, the state’s largest nurse’s union.
It comes as Rutgers and universities across New Jersey and the nation see their finances pummeled by the COVID-19 pandemic, and mitigation efforts like stay-at-home orders.
After Rutgers reported a $100 million revenue loss, the university was ultimately able to approve a $4.5 billion budget in October that included $437 million in state aid. But, the university froze new construction projects, banned business travel expenses and implemented furloughs and wage freezes.
According to Dory Devlin, a spokesperson for the university, the revenue losses include $74 million from auxiliary fees – such as athletics housing, dining and parking – and $43 million in health care revenues due to a three-month, state-mandated ban on elective medical procedures.
Another $11.2 million in gifts and investment into the university has evaporated, in addition to tuition freezes the university enacted last summer.
Spending cuts will be staved off, but the university is not lifting its hiring freeze, according to the announcement.
“This is a great agreement that required hard work by everyone. Rutgers negotiators and our union representatives rolled up their sleeves, put in long hours and came to an agreement that works for everyone,” Devlin said in an email.
Workers who were laid off and then rehired are not subject to the work-sharing program, provided they were out of work for longer than the outlined length of the furloughs.
“We finally got the administration to change direction and adopt our people-centered approach,” reads a statement from Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Todd Wolfson.
“Rutgers will have what is likely the largest work-sharing program anywhere in higher education—one that our coalition developed that the administration is adopting to cover the majority of workers at Rutgers.”
The agreement calls for pay increases to be frozen until July 1 this year, which is the start of the university’s next budget year, after several raises outlined in prior contracts were canceled last summer.
Members of the different unions and chapters are subject to different pay increase schedules after that date.
“After a year of false starts, many layoffs, and a variety of setbacks, we have been able to ratify an agreement through 2022 promising worker protections for our members who have been working very hard mitigating this interlocking crisis on the front lines,” reads a joint statement from HPAE Local 5094 co-presidents Justin O’Hea and Ryan Novosielski. “In addition, we have been able to preserve the raises we fought so hard for in our 2018 contract agreement.”
Teaching and graduate assistants will be able to stay on the payroll and keep their health benefits through the Fall 2021 semester, which runs from September to December this year.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:35 p.m. EST on April 7, 2021, to include additional comments from Rutgers University spokesperson Dory Devlin.