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NJ state senator, Rutgers professors speak on AAUP-AFT lawsuit against U. for pay equity

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-N.J.) said the University must enforce its Salary Equity Program in order to eliminate pay inequality. – Photo by Loretta Weinberg / Facebook

The Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) held an online press conference yesterday where State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-N.J.) spoke alongside two of the five female Rutgers professors who filed an equal-pay lawsuit against the University in October.

Weinberg and the two professors discussed the issue of pay inequity at Rutgers and the changes they wish to see from the University.

The Daily Targum previously reported the lawsuit when it was initially announced at a press conference on Oct. 15. Three of the five professors spoke about their experiences and explained the reasoning behind the lawsuit, which is to reveal the issue and require the University to pay female employees equally, according to the article.

Weinberg said she had mixed feelings about speaking at the conference due to the fact that New Jersey has what is considered to be the strongest pay equity law in the U.S.

While she is proud of that law, she said she is embarrassed for the University due to its systemic issues in pay equity.

“We should be the leader in this area,” she said. “We, in the state of New Jersey, are already the leader in (this) area in terms of the law we’ve provided, and now our state University should be a leader in (this) area.”

Weinberg said she understands University President Jonathan Holloway must continue to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, but his help is needed to enforce the Salary Equity Program negotiated with Rutgers by the AAUP-AFT in order to end pay inequity at the University.

Nancy Wolff, distinguished professor and director of the Edward J. Bloustein Center for Survey Research, said it has now been approximately one year since she submitted an application to the Rutgers Salary Equity Program and has yet to receive a response.

Wolff said unfair treatment in compensation and promotion is harmful to overall well-being and financial security. She said this is what motivated her and the other plaintiffs to sue the University for violating New Jersey’s Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act.

She said she and the other plaintiffs are following the example set by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who filed an equal-pay lawsuit against the University alongside her female colleagues and won.

“This 'Groundhog Day' is not a fantasy or a comedy,” Wolff said. “It is a persistent reality of economic injustice. The practice of pay inequity at Rutgers has persisted for well over half a century.”

She said that adjusting the salaries of those who have been subjected to pay inequity only addresses past discrimination, not future discrimination. Wolff said the issue must be resolved permanently through institutional reform.

“We, faculty and administration together, need to create a formal structured process that actively addresses and monitors the cause of salary inequities among faculty,” she said. “We need to change the culture and the behavior within the culture so that only merit guides compensation and promotion decisions.”

The final speaker, Deepa Kumar, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies and immediate past president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT, said it is unjust for women to earn less than their male counterparts for comparable work. She said women of color likely face an even greater pay imbalance.

“All of us, who are part of this lawsuit, want to strike a blow against this injustice,” she said. “This is really, in my opinion, what is at stake in this lawsuit.”

Kumar said the lawsuit is one of the first court cases under the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, and the result will set a precedent for all New Jersey workers, potentially making the law a reality in the state.

She said that despite a letter from Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) endorsing the AAUP-AFT's proposals for gender and race equity and the former University President Robert L. Barchi’s agreement to these proposals, cases of pay equity have yet to be properly addressed.

“We want our example to shed a spotlight on the injustices at Rutgers so that our new president, (Holloway), who is committed to equity, can work to create a process where all faculty, and particularly faculty in historically oppressed groups, are treated with the respect they deserve and are paid a fair salary,” Kumar said.

She said the University is not in a fiscal emergency based on its current unrestricted reserves. A report from the Rutgers AAUP-AFT University Budget and Priorities Committee found the reserves had approximately $766 million in September.

Wolff also said the lack of statistics on female professors affected by pay inequity at the University indicates the Rutgers administration has given little attention to the issue. The AAUP-AFT will be distributing a survey on Friday among its 6,000 faculty members about their experiences with pay inequity.

She said broad annual pay equity analyses should be performed and transparent reports of the results should be made at the University-wide level.

“We can always use a fiscal argument to say that we can’t do this. But it’s really saying that you don’t identify this as a priority, that the value of paying women equally is not valued enough at the University to use its scarce resources ... in a way that puts women and men on the same playing field,” Wolff said. “And that says something about Rutgers’ values that I hope are not true today.”

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