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Rutgers unions call for transparency during coronavirus outbreak

Five Rutgers unions signed a letter to administration calling to be included in the University's coronavirus task force.  – Photo by Photo by The Daily Targum | The Daily Targum

Various faculty and staff unions at Rutgers have submitted a letter to University President Robert L. Barchi on March 11 to discuss how the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak is being handled at the University. 

The American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT), the Union of Rutgers Administrators - American Federation of Teachers (URA-AFT), the Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter of the AAUP-AFT (PTLFC-AAUP-AFT), the Health Professionals and Allied Employees and American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors - Biomedical and Health Sciences of New Jersey all signed a letter asking to be included in the COVID-19 Task Force.

“Though we acknowledge that the Task Force has been working hard, we believe that the communications at this time outline measures that are either incomplete or incoherent and do not address many of the concerns that we have as a unified group of University employees,” the letter said. 

Along with including union members in the Task Force, the unions also asked to be provided with a list of the members of the Task Force, their protocols for decision making, the current safety protocols implemented, additional cleaning protocols for facilities staff and current symptom and exposure protocol, according to the letter. 

The unions also asked for the University to expand telecommuting options for all staff and to cancel nonessential in-person meetings. All departments should be provided with supplies to prevent infections, such as tissues, disposable face shields, surface disinfectants and hand sanitizer, according to the letter.

In the event that a University employee became sick, the unions said Rutgers health clinics should provide testing and treatment to all members of faculty regardless of their health insurance status, according to the letter.

Rutgers does not provide health insurance for part-time lecturers, according to a press release from PTLFC-AAUP-AFT. 

“The letter specifically asks the administration to keep this in mind during this time, as the decision to deny its adjunct faculty health coverage not only puts these adjuncts at immediate risk, but it endangers students and other staff with whom adjunct instructors come into contact,” the press release stated. 

In addition to concerns over insurance, the letter said if an employee is to be quarantined voluntarily or involuntarily or if the University is completely shut down, the unions said their members should be paid regardless. They also asked that absences not be penalized. 

The unions said healthcare workers should be provided with necessary equipment for handling the virus, quarantine locations as well as who will service those quarantined. 

Amy Higer, vice president of the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT Newark Campus Chapter, said the demands in the letter are especially important for part-time lecturers due to their lack of health insurance and job security, according to the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT press release. 

“We need to make sure that our work is valued, that we are compensated fairly for any extra work, that we are treated with respect during this unprecedented situation and that we are able to provide our students the education they deserve,” Higer said.

Christine O’Connell, president of the URA-AFT, said the University’s communications in regard to the COVID-19 outbreak have been largely aimed at the students and did not address the needs of staff as well. She said the impact of the University closure has resulted in “anxiety and stress” for staff, as many of their concerns have not been addressed.

“The unions are very concerned with the lack of transparency when the University makes their decisions. They created a task force that is charged with advising President Barchi on matters of COVID-19. We asked (in the letter) who the members that are on the task force and to date, still don’t have any answers. We asked to be added to the task force and have not heard,” O’Connell said. “Once again, the University autonomously makes decisions that impact people’s lives without input from them.”

The unions said they will demand negotiations if their requests are not met, according to the letter. 

“We represent (more than) 15,000 employees here at Rutgers University. Without our work, this institution could not function as the preeminent research University that we are today,” the unions said, according to the letter. “We deserve to be part of the planning that will impact our work and our lives.”

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