By Len La Rocca
“Fair contract now” chants erupted from faculty and staff at Quimby’s Prairie in an American Federation of Teachers demonstration against the lack of contracts for professional staff.
Having been without contracts since July, professors and staff members gathered with signs in hand on Nov. 20 to express their frustration with New Jersey’s inability to negotiate a fair contract. Nancy Lasher, the College’s AFT president, began the demonstration by declaring the grievances of those affected.
Holding up the former contract, Lasher articulated the current situation of the College’s professional staff.
“The state and the presidents are doing their best to put it through a shredder,” she said. “We make proposals in good faith. We not only get our proposals back with a red line through them, but rights that we had in our contract have come back to us … with red lines through them.”
The key demands of the AFT include full-time-to-adjunct faculty ratios, equal pay for equal work, academic freedom for adjuncts, reasonable contract durations and binding arbitration for local agreements.
The final demand, crucial to AFT, regards a current lack of necessity for the president of the College to comply with non-binding agreements.
“That means we have no power,” Lasher said. “When we negotiate locally, we don’t have binding arbitration. We have a dispute. The arbitrator finds in our favor and do you know what a college president can say? ‘Thank you very much, but I’m doing what I want to do.’ This is a problem.”
Head nods from the passionate crowd followed the call for binding arbitration.
“By impacting the working conditions of faculty and professional staff, these agreements impact the services we provide to our students,” the AFT demonstration flier stated. “If college presidents are not bound to honor them, your educational experience lacks predictability and stability.”
Lasher described the importance of professors as they educate and advise the future workers of the world.
“We are the professors who are not only here to teach the students, but talk to the students about what they’re going to do after college,” she said. “And you know what? We are being treated like a fungible good.”
Equality in the number of students each professor is assigned to advise is also a major issue staff members are facing.
“Some people have five kids and others have 100 kids,” said Lisa Simeus, the assistant director of Student Accounts. “That’s not fair to have one person advise 100 students and another person advise five.”
Lasher and AFT Vice President Dave Prensky sat down during the week before the demonstration, for what they thought would be a negotiation, according to Lasher.
“We were told the state is about done talking,” Lasher said. “If this plays out the way it could, that means the state is getting ready to declare an impasse and impose its last best offer. What do we have to think about that? I have to say that last best offer is not very good.”
Lasher began the march around Green Hall — home to the office of College President Kathryn Foster — and the rest of the crowd followed, chanting and repeating the phrase “fair contract now.” Signs poking fun at the College’s “Hi” marketing campaign read “Hi! Remember us?” and “Hi time for a contract.”
Following the march, Lasher told the crowd that AFT members would be voting later in the day to authorize a strike in an effort to send a message to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. The vote followed, which authorized the union to call a strike.
“We can take a positive strike authorization vote to the governor and say ‘yeah, it’s this bad. We’re this angry and you’ll be the first democratic governor whose been struck in modern memory,’” she said.
Mo Gonzalez, a freshman early childhood education and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies double major, took the mic to speak for students who stand by the professors.
“I wouldn’t be able to be here and none of the students would be able to be here if it wasn’t for the teachers,” Gonzalez said. “We need to be investing in our teachers and we need to be less worried about building benches and basketball courts.”