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U. establishes new Office of University Labor Relations

The new Office Of University Labor Relations (OULR) was established toward the beginning of this semester to facilitate discussions between the University and Rutgers unions. – Photo by Matan Dubnikov

The Office of University Labor Relations (OULR) is a new office that works directly with University President Jonathan Holloway to manage the University’s working relationship with all faculty and staff unions as well as develop Rutgers’ overall labor strategy. 

Holloway previously announced the office’s formation in his Sept. 24 address to the University Senate, The Daily Targum reported. David Cohen, vice president for University labor relations and special counsel for labor affairs, currently heads the office and explained how it operates. 

Cohen said the office's main duties include negotiating agreements with faculty and staff unions, addressing day-to-day labor issues within different departments and listening to complaints and mediating a resolution process.

Other responsibilities include providing guidance on administering University policies and offering training to supervisors regarding workplace issues, he said.

The OULR combines the former Office of Labor Relations in University Human Resources and Office of Academic Labor Relations in Academic Affairs into one central department within the Office of the President, Cohen said.

“President Holloway has made a priority of establishing a working relationship with our more than 20 unions that is respectful and productive,” he said. “Creating the University's first-ever labor relations office reporting directly to the president is an important part of building that relationship.”

Cohen said that his role includes acting as a liaison to Holloway during negotiations with unions as well as informing him of significant labor issues within the University that need addressing, such as pay inequity.

He said he works collaboratively with University officials Andrea Bueschel, chief of staff to Holloway and senior vice president of administration, and John Hoffman, senior vice president and general counsel. The OULR also works in conjunction with an internal Labor Strategy Advisory Group to design and implement Holloway’s labor strategy for the University.

He said the labor relations team has worked with Rutgers unions throughout the pandemic to discuss issues and negotiate labor contracts, including the University’s pay equity program that recently received community criticism for its initial decisions in the first group of cases.

This past month, the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) alleged that Rutgers had not properly followed the terms for a negotiated salary equity program and shortchanged 103 applicants by at least $750,000, the Targum reported.

Faculty at the University’s Camden campus are disproportionately affected by Rutgers’s approach to pay inequity and received the lowest average salary adjustments, according to a letter from the AAUP-AFT to its members.

Cohen said that the OULR is working to respond to pay inequity issues so that faculty who qualify for salary adjustments will receive them as outlined in Rutgers’ contract with the AAUP-AFT.

“The University, including our office, is working to respond responsibly, fairly and quickly to issues related to the implementation of the collectively negotiated pay equity process so that eligible faculty who have requested adjustments will receive pay adjustments as provided for in our contract,” Cohen said. “This is a new process, and we are all working together to make it work.”

Rebecca Givan, president of the AAUP-AFT, said she hopes that the OULR will lead to a better relationship between the University and Rutgers unions, considering the disrespect she feels that workers at the University have received over the years. Nonetheless, Givan said that after the creation of the OULR, she has still not seen any improvement in communication and finds that Rutgers’ faculty and staff are still disrespected.

“Although we hoped for an improvement in areas like consistency, transparency and timely responses, so far we have not seen any changes,” she said. “There is a great deal of work to do if this new office is committed to avoiding a prolonged period of labor strife.”

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