NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The union representing some 5,000 faculty members at Rutgers University has filed a formal unfair labor practice charge against the administration over a new course scheduling system that the university is implementing.
David Hughes, the treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, told TAPinto New Brunswick that the union filed the complaint with the Public Employees Relation Commission on Friday morning.
Hughes said that if an employer wants to change schedules of a unionized workforce, it is obligated by law to come before the union and negotiate it.
On Friday afternoon, several hundred faculty members from the School of Arts and Sciences voted to reject the use of CourseAtlas, a program the school is hoping to have online in March when students begin signing up for Fall 2020 classes.
TAPinto New Brunswick left phone and email messages for a Rutgers spokesperson seeking comment, but they were not returned. The school issued a press release on Oct. 22 touting the benefits of CourseAtlas.
According to the release, CourseAtlas is a software platform that "aims to make it easier for students in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick to sign up for the courses they need to complete their degrees on time, while cutting down on time spent traveling to class."
CourseAtlas "will balance student demand, instructor preferences and available classroom space in creating course schedules to help students fulfill requirements to graduate," according to the release.
“When courses are not available at ideal times for students or if there are conflicts with different courses they need to take, it […] can lead to additional semesters needed to complete their program,” said Paul Hammond, associate vice chancellor for technology and instruction, in the press release.
Hughes said the administration agreed to discuss CourseAtlas with union representatives in the spring when AAUP-AFT representatives were in negotiations for a new contract. Rutgers and the union reached a tentative contract agreement April 16, bringing to an end more than a year of bargaining and averting the first faculty strike in the university's 253-year history.
Hughes said that the administration has not kept its word to negotiate over CourseAtlas.
"It became clear at the bargaining session last month that they had not spoken in good faith in April and they still don't believe this is bargainable," Hughes said. "They're not willing to put anything in writing in terms of the practice of the system and they are not willing to make anything enforceable."
Hughes said the university's refusal to bargain over the issue is a "very old, tried-and-true union-busting tactic."
Hughes said the union does not believe that CourseAtlas will streamline schedules for students, although Hammond said in the press release that the nearly 40,000 Rutgers students were taking about 260,000 trips to almost 6,000 course selections per week.
“So," Hammond said, "the goal was to reduce the number of trips and to more intentionally schedule our courses so that we could reduce the amount of travel students needed to make.”
Hughes said that the issue isn't the number of trips, but the commuting experience.
"The problem is that each of those trips is a God-awful nightmare," he said. "That's because there are too few buses and each bus moves so slowly because it gets stuck in traffic behind the cars. The solution on travel is an infrastructural issue having to do with bus lanes and signal priority at that traffic lights and those kinds of transit solutions being tried in many cities right now."