Unions question equality of new savings plans

By Diana Bubser
Opinions Editor

and Matt Huston
Nation & World Editor

Union leadership at the College disagrees with administrators who say that union members are getting equal treatment under new salary pool reductions

Ralph Edelbach, associate professor of technological studies and president of the College chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said a difference in furlough days sends the wrong message to union members. Union-affiliated faculty and staff will be required to take up to six more unpaid days off than non-union managers and administrators.

“That seems to be saying that managers are more important than the rest of us,” Edelbach said. “It would have been better in my view, and that of many other union leaders, to have exactly the same salary-reduction plan implemented for everyone.”

Breaking with an exemption from past years, New Jersey has required that state colleges and universities make personnel-related cost cuts equivalent to those made by the state furlough plan.

At the College and most other state schools, the savings plans for union members, negotiated with the state by the Communication Workers Association (CWA), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) and AFT, the three main representatives for college workers, differ from plans implemented for non-union employees.

“The salary savings that New Jersey negotiated with its unions, including the state colleges and universities … are the result of the unprecedented downturn in the nation’s economy,” E.J. Miranda, director of public relations at Rutgers University, said.

Faculty, librarians, and professional staff at the College and other schools affiliated with AFT will take delayed salary increases and seven unpaid furlough days, but will get three of those days back as future paid leave days, according to Karen Siefring, president of the Rowan University chapter of AFT.

Clerical, maintenance, and facilities staff and other employees represented by CWA and IFPTE will take salary increase delays and 10 furlough days, recouping seven of those as paid leave days.

At the College, non-union managers and administrators will be required to take just one furlough day, but they also face a one percent pay cut, a stop on salary increases and reduced retirement contributions.

The state required that the College realize the same savings from each employee group. Both union and non-union adjustments were calculated to reduce expenditures by five percent of the respective salary pools, and College officials say the non-union plan is proportional to the one negotiated by the unions.

But Edelbach expressed disappointment with both savings plans. He said the furlough days will have a significant impact on teachers, who will not be allowed to miss any classes. Instead, the furlough days will take up time that would be spent doing prep work, research or grading.

“It is not realistic to think that employees who were working those days would just pick up the slack,” he said.

Edelbach anticipates that the furloughs will force teachers to work harder and more quickly.

He also said it is “not productive to attempt to justify any variations on the basis that the work of some employees is more essential than that of others.”

College officials have said that the variations in its furlough days and pay cuts correspond to the needs of campus services.

“I can affirm that our decision at (the College) was based on our conclusion that we could not afford to damage services to our students any more than was required by the state negotiated contract,” President R. Barbara Gitenstein said. “Thus, we instituted salary cuts rather than additional furloughs for our non-unionized employees.”

Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Relations and Communications, said that the functioning of campus operations depends on the availability of non-union managers.

“When union staff members take their furlough days, non-union staff members are trying to pick up some of the work that the union members would be doing. This allows us to keep offices open and performing their functions,” he said.

Golden said that requiring non-union workers to take the same amount of furlough days would shut down offices or create backlogs that would disrupt campus operations.

However, Siefring said that it was possible for non-union administrators to have an equal amount of furlough days as union faculty members without disrupting business at Rowan University.

Although Edelbach said it appears that the various savings plans will have a generally similar impact, he doesn’t buy the idea that identical furlough plans would seriously impair the operation of the College.

“There’s a way to have a perfectly even system, but that wasn’t done,” he said.

Both union and College spokespersons agree that the situation could be worse. Edelbach said the unions’ furlough plans were a better option than pay cuts, and Gitenstein expressed confidence in the College’s ability to overcome financial barriers.

“The personal and institutional impact of these reductions in investments in our dedicated faculty, staff and administration will surely be felt across the campus,” she said in an e-mail to employees. “However, we simply must not focus all of our attention on our collective frustration and anger — real as these feelings are.”

Gitenstein said she was optimistic that no College employee would have to take furloughs until June, when she was informed of the new state conditions.

“I cannot imagine that anyone at the College is happy about cuts to their compensation, either through salary cuts, or furlough, or deferred increases. No one at (the College) deserves these cuts,” she said.

Cynthia Curtis, president of the faculty senate, declined to comment on the issue.

Rutgers University, which is not covered under the same contract agreements as other state schools, formed a different strategy and brought on the resistance of union members.

According to Miranda, Rutgers met state budget requirements by “deferring wage increases without the use of furloughs, which are difficult to administer in a research university environment.”

“Management did not want us to take furlough days. Eventually, we agreed to negotiate on the basis of holding back raises until it equals the amount of 10 days’ pay,” Lucye Millerand, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators-American Federation of Teachers (URA-AFT), said.

Rutgers University laid off about 30 URA-AFT members this year, Millerand said.

At Rutgers University, URA-AFT’s dissatisfaction over the implemented wage freezes prompted its boycott of Rutgers University President Richard McCormick’s speech in September.

“Management simply wants to get back more out of us (union members),” Millerand said, and mentioned that communication between union workers and upper management has not improved since the boycott.

Miranda said the audience at McCormick’s address was standing room only, and that Rutgers University “has been in routine contact with union representatives.”

In early September, Richard Stockton College announced that it would institute the same savings plan as the College. But a week later, Stockton ceded to union pressures and agreed to model its non-union savings plan on the union agreement.

Edelbach does not think that there is substantial resistance at the College to prompt such a turnaround.

Diana Bubser can be reached at bubser2@tcnj.edu and Matt Huston can be reached at huston4@tcnj.edu.