By Chelsea LoCascio
Professors walked out of their respective buildings and congregated under the gray afternoon sky, with the intention of shedding some light on a not-so black-and-white issue. Faculty and staff, from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences to the Office of Student Accounts, got together to show that they will not stay silent while facing conditions that come with being an employee at the mercy of the state government.
Members of the College’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which includes full-time and part-time faculty and staff, are disgruntled that they are no longer under contract, have not received a significant raise in their wages in years and must undergo an arduous negotiation process when trying to obtain a reasonable contract.
Staff and faculty met in the heart of campus for their first annual Solidarity Walk on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 11:30 a.m., and spent half an hour peacefully protesting around the academic buildings — starting and ending in front of the Social Sciences Building.
“(AFT) represents over 600 employees (at the College). We’re the largest union on campus. The reason we’re walking is because… we haven’t had a substantial raise in five years. The last contract was a four-year contract that is now expired,” AFT President and associate professor of criminology John Krimmel said.
According to Krimmel, the state’s four-year contract ensured the staff and faculty a zero percent pay raise for the first two years and a 1.5 percent raise during the last two years.
“Professors are taking home less money now because we pay for a portion of our health care benefits,” Krimmel said. “We’re now in a new contract cycle, but the state hasn’t negotiated with us. We’re halfway into the school year without a contract. So this is our fifth year (with) no (substantial) pay raise.”
The contract is important for many reasons, but the main issues being under contract would solve are guaranteed raises as the cost of living increases and paid sabbatical, said Margaret Martinetti, an associate professor of psychology and member of AFT.
“There’s a lot of negotiation between the union and the state,” Martinetti said. “The state put demands on the table that would change how we teach undergraduates at this institution… The last contract was ratified in fall 2012, (so) we went over a year without a contract. The pace of negotiation is painfully slow and, in fact, in the last cycle, the state was refusing to come to the table. It was several months before they started negotiating.”
According to Krimmel, the College is supportive of the faculty and staff pushing for pay raises.
“I’ve talked to (President Barbara Gitenstein) about this. We don’t negotiate with her, we negotiate with the state and she has been very supportive of us being compensated,” Krimmel said. “It’s not a Gitenstein problem… She doesn’t know we’re doing this today. This is a surprise.”
Despite the College being surprise of the protest, it offers its support to the faculty and staff.
“The TCNJ administration values its unit employees and regrets that they are working without a contract. However, it is important to point out that all units negotiate with the governor of the state of New Jersey, not the College’s administration,” spokesperson Dave Muha said.
The surprise protest shocked not only the administration, but many of the students as they stopped in their tracks to watch their favorite professors march through campus with signs that read, “Treat workers fairly,” “More work, less pay” and “Fight for a fair contract.” Protesters also wore “Working without a contract” buttons. Even prospective students got a taste of the College’s fighting spirit as a tour group shuffled by the AFT’s gathering , getting a possible glimpse of their future college’s professors and staff.
“We want the students and administrative staff to know what’s happening because I don’t think you guys know,” Krimmel said. “This is about getting the news out so you know and understand what we’re doing.”
Though many students appeared to be in shock, some shouted their support, saying things like, “We support you guys. We appreciate what you do.”
“Most of the professors that I had here are amazing… they have opened my eyes to opportunities…They deserve security,” sophomore public health major Emery Gewirtz said. “A lot of people overlook the greatness that is being a professor… They deserve credit and appreciation.”
When the protesters returned to the front of the Social Sciences Building during that gray afternoon, they applauded Krimmel’s closing remarks that stressed the severity of the situation and dispersed into their respective buildings — all with the same hope that this walk will spark some serious change.