Union rejects university contract extension, teases summer talks

By Sarah Siock

Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said a full contract negotiation will take place this summer after the administration approached the union with a one-year extension of the present agreement that did not include minimum requirements spelled out by the union.

On April 7, the AAUP negotiating team sent an email to members that said the union asked the administration for an agreement that included a substantial across-the-board salary increase, an improvement in retirement plans, an improvement in support for scholarship and protection against layoffs.

“Their response was a direct slap in the face,” the AAUP negotiating team wrote in the email.

The administration offered a 1% salary increase that was below the rate of inflation, the ending of the tuition subsidy plan for study at institutions other than Rider, no improvement in retirement plans, no improvement in support for scholarship and no protection against layoffs, according to the union.

Jeffrey Halpern, AAUP contract administrator and chief grievance officer added, “There was an offer to continue the existing support for summer fellowships which was drastically reduced in the last agreement.”

The administration’s response comes at a time where universities across the country are cutting costs due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the AAUP’s national faculty compensation salary survey that was published on April 12, real wages for full-time faculty decreased for the first time since the Great Recession. The survey also asked about the wide range of actions taken by U.S. colleges and universities in response to financial difficulties stemming from the pandemic. The survey revealed that nearly 60% of institutions implemented salary freezes or reductions.

Rider’s current faculty employment agreement, which was ratified in June 2020, extended the contract until August 31, 2021. The agreement marked the seventh year in a row that faculty did not receive a cost- of-living raise.

“We did not reject the offer to discuss the possibility of a further one-year extension of the present agreement, but we did say that any such extension would have to meet certain minimum requirements which we spelled out to the administration. They then made an offer that did not come close to meeting those minimums, and so we replied to that the normal process for negotiating a successor agreement should take place this summer,” said Halpern.

The email sent to union members earlier this month also asked faculty to sign a pledge: “I do not want to strike but I will if we can not achieve a fair contract by negotiations alone.”

Halpern said the statement is not a formal authorization to strike.

“We do not want to strike, but if negotiations without a strike cannot achieve a fair contract we are prepared to do so. Keep in mind that the faculty and coaches represented by the AAUP have seen major reduction in their financial well-being over the last seven years,” said Halpern.

The administration declined to answer questions from The Rider News regarding the union’s minimum requirements for the agreement.

Instead, Vice President for Human Resources Rob Stoto replied with a statement that said, “While the parties have been in communication regarding the terms of an extension to the existing labor agreement, out of respect to the process we believe it is important to let these discussions play out and not comment publicly at this time regarding the specifics of those communications. Despite the many challenging times that higher education has faced over the years, the parties have a long history of successfully bargaining extensions to the collective bargaining agreement, and we are confident that we will do so again this year.”

According to Halpern, negotiations for the next agreement would begin after June 1. He added that the union would be open to another, more generous from the administration.

“We would consider an offer from the administration that met our minimum requirement,” said Halpern.

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