The Council of New Jersey State College Locals held a “Day of Action” on April 12 in support of its demands for a new contract. Hundreds of faculty, adjunct faculty, librarians and professional staff, joined by students and activists from sister unions, rallied and marched at campuses across the State, drawing attention to the fact that we have been working without a new contract since July 1, 2015. By all accounts, turnout was strong and spirits were high. Student participation was particularly impressive.
A constant theme was the serious erosion in our salaries due to a freeze on normal increments and sharp increases in health care premiums imposed by the Governor and the Legislature since 2011, as well as the ongoing chronic underfunding of public higher education in our State.
At The College of New Jersey, nearly two hundred Local 2364 union activists and their supporters marched around the administration building and then occupied the floor housing the President’s office, chanting “We want a contract and we want it now.” Charles Wowkanech, President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, who addressed the crowd from the steps of Green Hall, issued a challenge: “With the rising cost of health care, utilities, food and child care, our brothers and sisters in the AFT need a contract that keeps pace with the cost of living in our state. Is this how New Jersey wants to treat our teachers? Is this how we value our children’s education?”
In its press release, President Wowkanech and Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan declared, “We cannot let Governor Christie pass the buck to middle and working class families who pay more in tuition as a result of cut education funding. It is essential that we stand in solidarity for both fair contracts for New Jersey’s working families and funding for education.”
At Rowan University, well over a hundred Local 2373 protestors, wearing blue AFT shirts as well as pins provided by the Rowan local, marched across campus holding signs reading “Our Work Makes Rowan Work.” They rallied around the clock behind Savitz Hall for speeches and songs.
Montclair State University, Ramapo College, William Paterson University and Stockton University were the scenes of New Orleans-style funeral marches mourning the death of public higher education and lack of state funding for higher ed. Music faculty and students played dirges and protestors carried coffins labelled “RIP Higher Education” and “RIP Healthcare.”
Richard Wolfson, President of Montclair Local 1904, noted that it is cheaper for the university to hire an adjunct than a full-time faculty member. He urged President Susan Cole to pay more attention to the employees on her campus.
Martha Ecker, President of Ramapo Local 2274 expressed disappointment in the State for being unfair to its employees and in her college President Peter Mercer for imposing excessive tuition on Ramapo students.
Susanna Tardi, President of William Paterson Local 1796, observed that our members’ salaries have gone down while administrative salaries have gone up. Unity, she emphasized, throughout the Council and its allies, is our only hope of winning a decent contract.
The Stockton University protest (click underlined for video) attracted a large group of adjunct faculty, professional staff and students. At the conclusion of marching, a student emerged from a wooden coffin holding a sign that said “No More Student Debt.” Stockton Federation of Teachers Local 2275 President Anne Pomeroy insisted “Our fight is not just for union members. It is for the students and their children.” In a rare show of support from the administration, Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman issued a statement that “the university has budgeted for salary increases and we fully support a resolution of the American Federation of Teachers’ contract by the state.”
At Thomas Edison State University, over 50 Local 4277 professional staff members wearing blue AFT t-shirts held an impressive lunchtime demonstration, lining the sidewalk from the West State Street/Barracks Street intersection all the way down to the State House. They were joined by AFL-CIO staff, whose headquarters are directly across the street. Their demand for a fair contract was greeted by cheers from passersby and car horns.
Kean University Local 2187 held a teach-in where labor leaders and campus activists discussed labor unions and their historical and ongoing importance to the working and middle classes. New Jersey City University Local 1839 distributed literature across campus and invited their students to an upcoming screening of Starving the Beast, a documentary that highlights the ongoing attack on publicly funded higher education.
Robert Noonan, president of adjunct Local 6025 at Montclair, was interviewed by Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent for NJTV News. Bob talked about how the State’s financial commitment to public higher education has been nearly cut in half over the past decade. The primary funding source has become student tuition, and savings have been achieved by shifting from full time to adjunct faculty. The college presidents claim that negotiations are in the hands of the Governor’s Office, but it is well known that the presidents are part of the State’s negotiations team and have significant input. “We are not looking for the sky; we’re looking for a reasonable settlement,” he said.
Tim Haresign, Council President summed up the day’s events by saying “Our message is simple. The state of New Jersey and the college and university presidents need to support affordable, accessible and quality higher education. A faculty and staff whose work is appreciated and fairly compensated is essential to the achievement of this goal.”
Negotiations are continuing. The Council is leaving no stone unturned in its mission to achieve a new contract, but we need a motivated membership to succeed. The Day of Action was a giant step in the right direction.