NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – An alliance of unions representing 20,000 Rutgers workers, along with student organizations, social justice groups and community activists, have organized a march to bring attention to a wide range of issues, including layoffs at the university,
Saturday's march for “RLivesRJobsRSchools,” which will begin at 3 p.m., comes after the university laid off more than 1,000 faculty members since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to press release released by organizers.
According to organizers, the event is also being staged to urge the university to reach an agreement on a new contract with the medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, lower tuition and fees, take stands on racial equality and climate justice and to denounce Rutgers’ involvement in the razing of Lincoln Annex School.
The march is scheduled to start at the site of the 60-year-old school at165 Somerset St. that has been home to students in grades 4-8 since the city brought it from the Diocese of Metuchen for $7.4 million in 2013.
The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the New Brunswick Board of Education, the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), RWJ Barnabas, the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders and local city government are working on a plan to bulldoze Lincoln Annex and build the state’s first free-standing cancer hospital in its place.
City officials have said that the $55 million replacement school is scheduled to be built at 50 Jersey Ave. without cost to the city’s taxpayers.
Construction is expected to take about three years to complete. In the meantime, students from Lincoln Annex will be bussed to the school district’s Pathways Campus at 40 Van Dyke Ave.
The announcement for Saturday’s march referred to the Pathways Campus as a “warehouse,” but the building was freshly painted, well-lit and furnished with new amenities when state, county and local officials and others were given tours last year. Gov. Phil Murphy spoke at the event and posed for photos with the students who are emersed in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.
Job security in the midst of a pandemic is of grave concern to the full-time and graduate rank and file of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said president Todd Wolfson.
Last spring, Rutgers officials declared a fiscal emergency as referenced in certain labor union contracts, which then triggers a mandatory 21-day negotiating period.
During the time, the university and its labor unions “investigate” the next step before any action is formally taken by Rutgers. Pay cuts and layoffs were on the table.
“The excuse for this is a fiscal emergency that simply doesn’t exist,” said Wolfson. “Rutgers has a rainy-day fund of unrestricted financial reserves that went up again last year. Enrollment is down only slightly. And just this week, we got the welcome news that state appropriations for Rutgers will be restored to pre-pandemic levels. That’s close to $100 million in threatened cuts that have been won back.
“The last justifications for the administration’s layoffs and cuts are vanishing. It’s intolerable that they are still considering plans that will destroy even more lives. Rutgers needs to stop all layoffs and cuts now, bring back the more than 1,000 people who have already lost their jobs, and turn in a new direction.”
The layoffs are making a disproportionate impact on workers of color, said Donna Murch, an associate professor of history and cochair of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT People of Color Caucus.
“Just as Rutgers’ corporate vision has affected workers of color in the university, we are seeing similar impacts on communities of color in New Brunswick, including the closing of one of the highest-performing public schools in the city that serves an overwhelmingly Latinx student body,” Murch said in a press release. “Saturday’s march for lives, jobs, and schools is also a march for racial and economic justice.”
Job security - along with inadequate supply of personal protection equipment to the university's medical workers treating COVID-19 patients - was a prominent topic in April when protestors staged a car caravan outside former President Robert Barchi's on-campus residence.