Rutgers’ current tumult is a harbinger of positive change | Opinion - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

Rutgers’ current tumult is a harbinger of positive change | Opinion

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By Christina Rosario

May 2, 2023

Could there be a glimmer of hope of better days to come even in these days of turmoil at Rutgers?

The positive change that I am looking for will come if Rutgers can agree to fair contracts with labor unions that respect the sacrifices and humanity of workers, an ideal that Rutgers’ leaders often give lip service to but hardly ever practice.

I believe in America and in what an institution of higher learning like Rutgers can still be, especially for an immigrant like me. Rutgers and New Jersey have been my home since I arrived in this country from Bangladesh 13 years ago. I joined Rutgers, earned my master’s degree, and have worked here ever since.

But I have experienced others in this hierarchical institution take credit for my work and have been disrespected time and time again. Despite rhetoric about staff welfare, Rutgers is comprised of top-down structures that give power and respect to people based on their position and wages. Those of us at the bottom have been shown disrespect with impunity. The so-called glass ceiling on opportunities is not only real at Rutgers, but it is also impregnable.

Imagine, for instance, working ten years at the same place without advancement. Then, when you thought you finally had a chance, someone you trained got the job and became your supervisor. I was left feeling completely without agency. I came to realize that I was among many who cowered, went unnoticed and was unappreciated.

This is part of the reason that I decided to become more involved in my union. I felt empowered when I joined the bargaining committee, working to negotiate a fair, equitable contract with Rutgers.

I am a member of HPAE Local 5094, which represents approximately 2,709 health care professionals, 2,060 of whom work for Rutgers in mental health, health care, corrections, child protection and permanency, biomedical research, information technology, and education, among other professionals. HPAE Local 5089 represents an additional 1,569 health care workers, mostly nurses, 632 of whom also work for Rutgers. Members at both HPAE locals have been working on expired contracts since June 30, 2022.

But the disrespect directed at us from Rutgers’ leaders across the bargaining table is disheartening.

Rather than bargaining with us in good faith, Rutgers has been trying to bust our union by subcontracting bargaining unit work at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to RWJ Barnabas Health, a private corporation.

After long denying that it has been systematically shifting the union jobs of its public workers over to its private partner, RWJ Barnabas Health, Rutgers finally admitted it is doing just that. Adding insult to injury, Rutgers asked that we just agree to let them continue transferring our jobs out of the public sector.

So, having painted this grim picture, why do I see hope for positive change.

The hope is in the solidarity among the public workers and their labor unions. We stabilized the institution and ensured that it served the public interest during the pandemic. That same dedication will carry us through this trying period.

Our commitment and camaraderie will make us stronger. Of course, we need partners in Rutgers management to help us all achieve stability. Rutgers will have to decide to treat us as members of its “beloved community,” who form the vertebra of the university and engage us with compassion, not with disdain. A simple calculation will show that such care will be worth so much more.

The hope is Rutgers will contribute to the pursuit of happiness of its people.

Christina Rozario is a member of HPAE Local 5094 and is a Rutgers School of Public Health Program coordinator.

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