By: Todd Evans – Copy Editor
Winter winds buffeted William Paterson University with students scurrying from building to building. Mother Nature’s fury though was nothing compared to the passion of faculty, staff and students who rallied and marched to advocate new faculty and staff contracts.
The protest was organized to highlight ongoing contract and promotion disputes between the professor’s union and WPU administration and New Jersey state government.
The crowd of more than 100 people held signs and chanted phrases such as “What do we want? A Contract! When do we want it? Now!” and “President Waldron, it’s not a notion. Faculty deserve their promotions!” as they marched around campus.
The American Federation of Teachers, Local 1796, the union of WPU professors all organized the event.
The marchers wearing mostly blue AFT t-shirts started at the Cheng library, wound their way around the Student Center green and then down to Hobart Manor and Shea Center.
The union is protesting the decrease in the number of promotions for faculty recommended by the union’s university promotion committee.
“If you deserve your promotion your policy says if you’re meritorious you should receive it,” said Dr. Susanna Tardi, AFT Local 1796 president. “The President came before all of us and said ‘I’m going to help you, I know, I see your blue t-shirts, we’re going to give you the promotions.’ She gave us the slots and then took them back and we don’t get them back the following year. So faculty deserve their promotions.”
The university’s response to inquiry about contract negotiations and grievances was a statement by Stuart Goldstein, Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations.
“The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have not reached contract agreement with the state; thus, many of our employees are working without a new contract since summer 2015 and, consequently, without salary increases,” Goldstein stated. “This is deeply regrettable. We are encouraged that contract negotiation meetings have been scheduled for this spring in Trenton and we hope for progress leading to an agreement.”
Another grievance is the reduction in money professors make after paying for rising healthcare costs due to forfeiting salary increment increases in their last contract from 2015. According to Tardi, faculty’s take home pay decreased 10 to 15 percent in their last contract and in the new proposed contract that would decrease again about 20 to 30 percent.
History Professor, Dr. Terrence Finnegan spoke at the march about the importance of unions and what they stand for.
“My sisters and brothers why are we here today?” Finnegan asked. “We’re here today because we want the state and the administration and the legislature to know that this union has been on this campus for 50 years and it is going to be here 50 more! And that unions stand for equality and opportunity and hope and the middle class and that’s what we stand for. We want all Americans, everyone who lives in this country, to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors together.”
Finnegan then elaborated about how since Gov. Chris Christie came into office state government funding and aid for higher education has stagnated and declined.
“What does he say the cause of that is?” Finnegan queried. “He says it’s out of control healthcare costs. Okay, if that’s true when why don’t you support a sensible plan for controlling those costs?”
Dr. Steve Vail, who has taught biology at WPU for 24 years, like many professors with a family has been affected by the contract logjam.
“It’s stressed our family financially. So we’ve got kids in college and bills to pay and we have to pay for our own healthcare now,” he said.
The professor’s union plans to bring a number of members to the April 28 WPU Board of Trustees meeting to voice their grievances.