This week’s topic focused on student and worker safety in the tumultuous and ever-changing landscape of higher education. We heard from three inspiring women who have been organizing higher education faculty and staff across departments and sectors for conditions where every single worker can work safe and receive just compensation.

Christine O’Connell, President of the Union of Rutgers Administrators (URAAFT), began our panel with the story of the Rutgers Coalition of Unions, a network of all unions representing Rutgers employees which formed to help workers support one another across union lines. The Coalition has put forward a joint proposal that includes no layoffs, continued health benefits for furloughed employees, and hazard pay for those who worked through the crisis. Successes achieved so far, including the statewide closing of libraries, demonstrate the power of organizing around common demands that address the needs of all workers across union, department or sector. Here is the presentation.

Rebecca Kolins Givan, Vice President of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT and Associate Professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers, shared her experience organizing alongside Christine with the Rutgers Coalition of Unions. “We’ve made things non-negotiable by having a coalition of 20,000 workers rather than chipping away at things separately,” said Rebecca. Rebecca also emphasized the importance of organizing both at the bargaining table and in the political arena, pointing out that many recent victories have been signed off on not in union contracts but by legislators in Trenton. Here is the presentation.

Marcia Kleinz, higher education field representative for NJEA, explained funding challenges faced by many New Jersey colleges and current organizing to make sure that cuts do not fall on the backs of workers. Staff at some colleges have negotiated salary increase deferrals or givebacks; others have negotiated furloughs to allow workers to keep their benefits. As colleges begin to share reopening plans with varying levels of worker input, Marcia stressed that unions will continue to watch closely to ensure corners are not cut on the implementation of these policies – and will bargain over the impact of changes in addition to the changes themselves.  More than 118 people attended this webinar.