GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Stockton faculty members Wednesday began the process of authorizing a strike if statewide contract negotiations continue to stall.
The voting began as union members held a rally before the larger-than-life replica of the Declaration of Independence at the main campus as part of a day of action organized by the 11 unions of the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, a subsidiary of the American Federation of Teachers, to call for a “fair contract now.”
“What we’re fighting about is the soul of the university,” said Stockton’s Local 2275 President Rodger Jackson.
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The union contract that covers 10,000 faculty, adjuncts and professionals across nine state colleges, including Stockton, expired in June, and Stockton Federation of Teachers Local 2275 leaders said negotiations have hit a roadblock with the state.
A spokeswoman from the Governor’s Office declined to comment on the contract or the pre-strike actions.
Locals at Ramapo College and William Paterson University have already approved strike authorizations. Tim Haresign, a Stockton faculty member and the state union president, said the other unions at Rowan, Montclair State, Kean, New Jersey City and Thomas Edison universities and The College of New Jersey are also planning to take votes on strike authorizations.
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Jackson said the strike authorization, if approved, gives negotiators the ability to call for a strike.
“If they find themselves pushed to the edge, this will be a card they can lay down on the table,” Jackson said.
Local 2275 members Elizabeth Elmore, Frank Cerreto and Joe Rubenstein were the first to cast their votes Wednesday in the plaza. The three professors were also working for the college in 1979, the last time the union went on strike.
“I’m simultaneously sad and honored to be casting this vote,” said Cerreto, who was hired in 1976.
Rubenstein, a professor since 1972, added, “Everything we have today: academic freedom, decent wages, we owe to the union.”
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Jackson said the vote and the rallies around the campus that have been ongoing is the union’s way of expressing to management the level of frustration the faculty members have been experiencing.
“And that we will not endure another dragging out of the process as we did the last time,” Jackson said, referring to the last four-year contract that was only settled two years ago — two years after it expired.
“So in other words, we’re only two years out form the last fiasco,” said Jackson. “Almost immediately, we’re back at the table.”
Haresign said the current contract negotiations have been going on since last March.
“It’s been moving slowly,” he said. “As we’ve resolved more and more issues, it’s becoming more and more clear that we’re stuck.”
The crux of the issues are twofold and deal with two different contracts. First, the union wants to see a limit on the number of non-tenure-track positions at each college, and add protections for those employees. Second, the state wants to pay adjunct faculty members a lower rate than full-time faculty members to teach classes, Haresign said.
“The full-time faculty find that very unfair,” he said. “And the adjuncts find it insulting.”
Elmore, also a professor at Stockton since 1972, said casting the first vote felt “awesome.”
“What’s happening here at Stockton is really symptomatic of what’s going on in the entire country,” she said. “It’s the adjunct faculty who are really losing in the battle.”
Haresign said that technically, the union members are barred by law from striking, but that was also the case in 1979 when the last strike occurred.
“Sometimes you have to decide whether you have to follow the rules or do what’s right,” he said.