NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – A Rutgers faculty union whose members have been working on a contract that expired July 1, 2018, will likely hold a vote to ratify a new tentative deal by the end of December.

If approved, the contract would bring to an end a protracted labor dispute between the university and the American Association of University Professors Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey (AAUP-BHSNJ), which represents 1‚400 clinical and research faculty members of Rutgers’ Medical Bio-Health Science department.

The vote will be held even as several of the union’s members are still deployed on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many tended to ICU patients, help develop enhanced COVID-19 testing and made personal protection equipment with 3-D printers during the first wave.

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Their service during the health crisis was noted in a joint statement issued earlier this month by Dr. Brian Strom, the chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Catherine Monteleone, president of AAUP-BHSNJ, and Roger Johansen, vice president of AAUP-BHSNJ.

“This agreement goes a long way towards supporting medical faculty employed by the university and presented by the AAUP-BHSNJ – doctors and other health care professionals who have served heroically treating COVID-19 patients during this national crisis,” according to the statement.

Diomedes Tsitouras, executive director of AAUP-BHSNJ, told TAPinto New Brunswick that the tentative deal calls for union members to receive 3% pay raises for each of the past two years. They will get another 3% raise effective July 1, 2021 and a 2.5% bump July 1, 2022.

The contract also includes several provisions that the union has been pushing for, including ones relating to parental leave, academic freedom and sabbaticals, and the establishment of a process for consideration of pay equity adjustments.

The union also won provisions that should result in more job security for its rank and file. Tsitouras said it comes too late for one surgeon with 24 years on the job who was issued a letter of non-renewal in February at his office while he was in the middle of a grievance hearing, but it should help other faculty members going forward.

“We wanted tenured faculty members treated the same as any other tenured faculty member who's on the non-health science side because there's a tenuring procedure that the university has, and they haven't been extending it to our people,” Tsitouras said.  “So, we wanted that. For non-tenure track people, we want a little bit longer terms of appointment. The third thing was, when those terms expire, the ability to contest it, to grieve it, because right now someone could be non-reappointed and, they don't give them a reason or anything. It’s just, ‘Have a nice day.’”

Tsitouras said Jonathan Holloway, who succeeded Robert Barchi as Rutgers president July 1, seemingly made the union’s contract situation a priority.

Holloway described labor-management relationships at Rutgers as “fraught” when he addressed the university senate in September.

“However, I am going to do everything I can to see if we might establish a new way forward,” Holloway said. “I have made it clear to my senior management team that I want to approach negotiations from the standpoint of collaboration. Any negotiator who is driven by a desire to win is not paying attention to the fact that we are all on the same team.”

COVID-19 – and the economic damage it has brought to the university’s finances – has been a backdrop to negotiations over the past several months.

In June, a few months after the university sent the overwhelming majority of its students home and commenced remove instruction, it declared a fiscal emergency. At the time, officials were anticipating a $200 million budget shortfall. Even when it was revised to $97 million, Rutgers Chief Financial Officer Michael Gower said it represented the largest revenue shortfall in school history.

In response, the school instituted wage freezes, pay cuts to top administrators and other cost-saving protocols. About 900 employees were laid off and about 6,400 employees were facing work furloughs.

Earlier this month, Rutgers announced it would continue remote instruction for spring courses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was some irony to the fact that Rutgers’ brightest moment over the past year came when the Food and Drug Administration approved a saliva COVID-19 test developed at the school. It allowed for more widespread testing during the initial wave of coronavirus cases, and Tsitouras said that members of AAUP-BHSNJ worked in the lab where it was developed and played a role in the test’s creation.