Union negotiator says strike is more likely than not 

 By Shaun Chornobroff 

AFTER a summer of tension-filled negotiations between Rider’s faculty union and the administration regarding a new bargaining contract, union leadership said it is more likely than not that a strike will occur during the school year. 

Despite progress in the negotiations in recent weeks and both parties saying they want to avoid any strike, Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is still far from satisfied with the latest proposal, while the administration remains much more optimistic. 

“While there was some movement, the parties are still far apart. There’s going to have to be significant further movement if we are going to be able to settle,” Jeff Halpern, the head of the union’s negotiating team, said during AAUP’s informational picketing on Sept. 5. 

Along with salary and benefits, the two sides remain distant on issues such as tuition remission and increasing professor’s workload from three courses a semester to four. 

“They’re pretty committed to a position of increasing our work, cutting our pay and cutting our benefits,” AAUP President David Dewberry explained. “So more work for less.” 

Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo declined to comment on the potential removal of tuition remission and cutting benefits, but did explain that it is not uncommon for professors to teach four classes at a school like Rider’s, especially considering the university is frantically trying to stabilize its finances in the wake of the pandemic. 

“A lot of our faculty are already teaching four courses a semester. They teach an overload, they get extra pay for it. … We’re saying ‘no, let’s make that part of the regular teaching load and figure out how to make that work,’” Dell’Omo said. 

Even with the union’s dissatisfaction, Dell’Omo remains hopeful a strike will not be needed and viewed the latest proposal from his administration as a step forward. 

“I think the last offer we made to the union was a way to begin to create not just the savings we’re looking for, but to create a more partnership environment,” Dell’Omo said in a sit-down interview with The Rider News. “Because the biggest problem is change is happening so quickly, it’s hard to commit to a very structured future without having some flexibility built in on both sides.” 

After two temporary extensions of the contract between the union and the administration, it is officially set to expire on Sept. 9. 

The union has long been critical of Dell’Omo and has passed two votes of no-confidence in the president’s seven-year tenure. The most recent vote occurred in February, when 86% of the AAUP voted no-confidence, and the union called on the Board of Trustees to remove the president from his position. 

On Sept. 1, prior to the fall convocation, almost 100% of Rider’s union membership voted to give its leadership the authority to deploy a strike at any time. 

The union militantly protested the convocation, entering single-file in matching cranberry T-shirts that read “invest in Rider’s future, invest in Rider’s faculty.” 

During move-in days on Sept. 4 and 5, the union picketed on the Campus Mall and handed out flyers headlined “Possible Strike!” to students and parents. 

How a strike affects the community 

The union and administration negotiating teams will meet again on Sept. 9, meaning teachers will be present for the first day of class and another temporary extension remains a possibility, Dewberry said. However, he said that he is unsure if an extension will happen. 

Should a strike go from possibility to a reality, it may put the university in a compromising position. 

“It would not help the university in any way,” Dell’Omo said. “I get the give and take of the process, but I think we have to be realistic as to what will further advance the best interests of the entire university going forward.” 

Student Government Association (SGA) President Andrew Bernstein said he wants it to be known that “no matter the outcome of the contract negotiations, there’s a plan in place to make sure the semester continues as planned.” 

“It would be unfortunate to start the semester with a strike, I certainly hope it doesn’t resort to that. But of course I acknowledge the union’s right to picket, to strike for working conditions,” Bernstein said. 

Should a strike happen, not only would professors not teach classes, but athletic trainers and sports coaches are part of the AAUP and may strike as well. 

“If we do end up striking, we will not be providing any healthcare services to any of the student athletes. We will be out here picketing; we will not answer any texts,” said Priya Mehrish, an athletic trainer who was picketing during move-in days. 

When questioned, Dell’Omo said sporting events are “a work in progress. It’ll be a game time decision.” 

The university has posted job openings for interim professors online, and Dell’Omo assured that there are contingency plans should a work stoppage occur. However, many faculty members may not be enforcing “scab” professors’ work in the event of a strike. 

“They won’t be held responsible for the work a substitute did,” Halpern said. “When we all return to class we will make the necessary adjustments.” 

Faculty advisor Jackie Incollingo had no participation in the editing of this story due to the conflict of interest. 

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