By Shaun Chornobroff
With the threat of a strike looming over the student body when the school year commenced in September, David Dewberry, like many Rider professors, started his classes in a manner he wouldn’t have in prior years. The faculty union president explained his role as the leader of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), what had been occurring and prepared students for the possibility of a work stoppage.
Ultimately, any worry of a strike subsided when a five-year contract agreement was announced on Sept. 11. With “the issue not as present or public as it once was,” Dewberry did not have to greet his classes the same way on the opening day of the spring semester.
The stress of the negotiations is still prevalent for AAUP leadership. Due to unfulfilled promises pertaining to the agreement, the union continues to express dissatisfaction, and more than four months after the tentative agreement was announced, a written contract has yet to be signed.
“Making a decision is great, and coming to a conclusion is great, but you still have to implement all that and that’s what we’re struggling with here,” Dewberry said in a Jan. 25 interview with The Rider News.
Rider’s Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications, Kristine Brown, said the administration has provided the AAUP with a revised contract and is awaiting the union’s response.
“The collective bargaining agreement is a very extensive document which is several hundred pages long. It typically takes some time, post-settlement, for the parties to incorporate the agreed upon changes into this labor agreement. The parties are in the middle of that process now,” Brown said in a statement to The Rider News.
Dewberry cited multiple examples of contract disagreements, regarding pay cuts, replacement technology for computers and changes to health care policy, which he explained the union had to fight against.
When asked by The Rider News in a Jan. 27 interview, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo affirmed everything agreed to in the contract had been implemented, and said any delays or disagreements are not malicious.
“It’s not because anybody’s trying to manipulate or create dissatisfaction, it’s just working through those processes,” the university president said. “Sometimes the union may feel that they have to try [to] exert more pressure and expediency to issues by filing grievances and stuff like that. … It’s not a matter of simply saying ‘we negotiated x and therefore the administration’s reneging on something.’ … You can’t do that, it’s not legal.”
After multiple one-year extensions, coming to a five-year agreement instead of the traditional three-year contract gives the university and union a steadfast outlook for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, leading Dell’Omo to call it “historic.”
“I would like to think that for most of the members they felt ‘yeah, we went to negotiations and at least we have an idea of what’s going to be happening for the next five years,” Dell’Omo said. “There’s a lot to be said for having a little bit of stability in your environment.”
At a Jan. 31 union meeting, the first of the spring semester, Dewberry said faculty were open about their concerns regarding the agreement.
“There doesn’t seem to be a meeting of the minds over what we talked about at the table,” said Dewberry. “There’s questions of well, do we have a contract in place, given that we’re still disagreeing over what we agreed to last semester.”
Dewberry has been a member of multiple contract negotiations as faculty. The husband and father of two had an idea of what to expect at the end of last school year, knowing it was time for him and his family to “endure the hurricane” when heading into expectantly tenuous negotiations over the summer. Months after the negotiations’ public conclusion, Dewberry says he is copied on emails daily about conflicts within the agreement and now has a sub-folder on his email dedicated to “the fallout” of the negotiations, “because we still have to follow up on so much more.”
“I can see why some people think … ‘OK, it’s done. We can go relax and go back to regular work,” said Dewberry. “We’re still dealing with the ramifications and the implementation of this whole process that we went through.”