Civil Rights Health & Safety

Disability Aware? Not Rutgers.

At the beginning of October Rutgers announced a university-wide commemoration of Disability Awareness Month. Raising awareness is an important step towards a more inclusive and just world for people with disabilities but it is not enough: We need the university to take action and demonstrate that it values access and inclusion for disabled people year round. There can be no sincere commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion without concern for disability.

With the confusing roll-out of the FlexWork pilot program as well as the sudden lifting of the student mask mandate, Rutgers left immunocompromised staff who work in shared office settings, employees with student-facing jobs, students who must attend class in-person, and faculty who are at high-risk for severe COVID-19 infection in a difficult situation: not having enough time to obtain accommodations necessary after changes to schedules demanding more time in-office and the lifting mask mandates.

At the start of the October Disability Awareness Month, our unions proposed a rule whereby individual instructors could retain the discretion to require masks in their individual classrooms – a practice at neighboring institutions. As Disability Awareness Month nears its end, Rutgers administration appears to be interested only in performative gestures. When immunocompromised faculty raised concerns about the abrupt change in policy and institutional messaging, as early as September, this administration left our most vulnerable colleagues, students, and staff out to dry. To do so on October 1, or Day 1 of Disability Awareness Month, suggests that Rutgers is not, in fact, disability aware, and is not prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion.

The lack of awareness and action to meet the needs of disabled Rutgers employees and community members extends beyond COVID-19 risk. Staff report finding mold and insect infestations in their buildings impacting those with allergies and respiratory issues. University buildings and rental properties have entrances which are difficult to navigate if using mobility aids and are inconsistently accessible. Lack of remote work options disenfranchises disabled workers, something an expert on disabilities from Rutgers has pointed out. Options for accessible parking are limited and not always close to office spaces. Rutgers employees going through the accommodation request process have described the Office of Employment Equity as lacking awareness and understanding of the nature of their disabilities and their accommodation needs. Increases in health insurance premiums for Rutgers employees will disproportionately impact people with chronic health issues. Employees also report an ableist or non-inclusive tone in Rutgers communications about issues that impact people with disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront multiple ways the university has failed to demonstrate an awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. Now is the time for Rutgers to raise awareness and take action to create an inclusive, beloved community for all or risk increased attrition and unqualified labor pool. The university must consult with Rutgers’ unions in order to assess how changes in remote work policy, current infrastructure, and the accommodations process adversely impact not only disabled people but also the entire Rutgers community and provide solutions that minimize barriers to access

.The URA-AFT Health and Safety Committee

Christine O’Connell, President URA-AFT, Local 1766

Amy Higer, President PTLFC-AAUP-AFT

Rebecca Givan, President, AAUP-AFT

AAUP-AFT health and safety committee

Kathleen Hernandez, EVP CWA Local 1031, AFL-CIO

Diomedes Tsitouras, Executive Director AAUP-BHSNJ

Ryan Novosielski & Justin O’Hea, Co-Presidents, HPAE Local 5094

Tzeidel Eichenberg, Delegate, CIR
Helen Lu, Delegate, CIR
Alexandria Ali Cooper, Delegate, CIR Kevin Pineda, Delegate, CIR
Committee of Interns and Residents, SEIU

Frank P. Proscia, M.D., President, Doctors Council, SEIU

Health & Safety

Workplace Health & Safety Checklist

The URA-AFT Health & Safety Committee encourages URA-AFT members to complete the checklist for each workplace at Rutgers University. This checklist is a guide to assist URA-AFT members in identifying basic health and safety-related concerns commonly observed in workplaces via a regular safety walkthrough. Please direct any questions to

View the checklist here: online form | PDF download.

Health & Safety

“My Office A/C is Broken, Now What?”

Here’s what you should do if you are forced to work in extreme indoor temperatures:

  1. Immediately report the issue to REHS and make a facilities work order
  2. Notify your supervisor that you are reporting a safety violation and object to working under unsafe conditions until the repairs are complete:

    “I object to working under extreme temperatures that deviate from the recommendations of OSHA and PEOSH because it can or has already impacted my health and safety and will cause an eminent continued threat to my wellbeing.  As an alternative, I intend to leave the workplace and continue working remotely if/until the work environment is safe.  Moving forward, working remotely is the safest option until the HVAC is fully operational.”

    Reference: OSHA recommends temperature control in the range of 68-76° F and humidity control in the range of 20%-60%. Rutgers, as a public employer, is required to uphold a general duty of maintaining a workplace free from hazards according to PEOSH. Compliance with the OSHA recommendation will fulfill that duty. Violations may be reported to PEOSH at:
  1. If you’ve already experienced illness from the extreme heat conditions, notify your supervisor that you are feeling ill and must leave sick for the rest of the day. Request that the absence be precessed though the Occupational Health Department and that you should not be made to use your own sick time.
COVID-19 Health & Safety We R Not Disposable

Telecommuting: What to Know (March Update)

Updated 3/8/2021

On Wednesday, March 3, Vivian Fernandez sent out a message that extends the relaxation of rules around telecommuting until April 30, 2021. This is a welcome respite, but it contradicts what she told us in January: that telecommuting would be extended to May 31.

We continue to expect telecommuting to be extended through May 31.  We will also advocate for a safe reopening and repopulation at the appropriate time.

If you currently have a telecommuting agreement, then there is no change. If your manager attempts to change to your work schedule, and there is a request for additional in-person work, ask your manager, “what has changed operationally?”. This is not the time to let our guard down, and we will continue to fight for to keep you healthy and safe.

Steps to protect your rights:

You do not need to reapply for a telecommuting arrangement that was already approved and on file.  Continue to work according to that plan.

  1. If you are told to return to in-person work ask your supervisor: “what is the operational need?”  Important: make sure you get a response in writing. Some managers try to avoid this question and instead explain to you all of the safety measures in place on campus. Continue to insist on a response to only this question.
  2. If there is no true critical operational need for in-person work, contact us immediately.  Your supervisor does not have total discretion to force you to return if your work truly can be performed remotely.
  3. If there is a critical need for in-person work, make sure the safety measures are appropriate.  If not, you should object to working under unsafe conditions.
  4. If you have a medical or family reason for not working in-person (and there is actually a critical need for in-person work), request a flexible work hours arrangement that includes telecommuting or a leave request.  Important: this should be your last option.  Attempt steps 1 through 4 first.

If you are requested to return to work in person and there is no operational need to do so, please contact us to help. This is particularly impactful as parents of school age students will require greater flexibility as K-12 schools reopen.

COVID-19 Health & Safety

COVID UPDATES – Week of January 11

COVID Testing Expansion

After much persuasion from unions, primarily URA, Rutgers has expanded the protocols of testing for COVID-19 to include people who are reporting to work in person. In order to be eligible, you must be regularly scheduled on campus at least once a week for operational needs.

You must receive an email and fill out the form (long form first time and short form subsequently) on their platform to make an appointment to be tested. You can also choose to be tested independently using a PCR test and upload your negative results to the platform.

Please notify us if you haven’t received an email for testing but are expected to report to work regularly at

Using PTO time for COVID-19 Reasons

The change in Rutgers policy to use your Paid Time Off (PTO) time for COVID-19 reasons has begun. We are still advocating for management to reconsider implementing the COVID Paid Leave program from last March.

If your supervisor is not approving your use of PTO time for any COVID related reason, quarantining, care for a COVID positive person, or remote learning for your school aged child, please reach out to us immediately so we can help.

We will advocate for you and help resolve the issue. Use of PTO time can be used in conjunction with your telecommuting agreement.

COVID-19 Health & Safety We R Not Disposable

Exec. Order 192 & Reporting Violations

On October 28th, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order (EO) 192, which provided additional health and safety protocols that employers must follow. This EO gives details of what workplace employers must provide to protect their employees.

Of particular notice is section 1h. where employers are required to, “Promptly notify all employees of any known exposure to COVID-19 at the worksite, consistent with the confidentiality requirements of the ADA and any 9 other applicable laws, and consistent with guidance from the EEOC;”.

Read the EO >>

Because the state predicted that employers would try to violate parts or all of EO 192, they have provided several methods to bring them to their attention. I encourage you to notify us, Rutgers, and the state if you see violations. Here are the links to report any violations on protocols of health and safety.

Benefits COVID-19 Events Health & Safety New Brunswick/Piscataway

Members Only: Get your mask

We held three mask distribution events on Livingston, Busch, Newark and Cook/Douglass Campuses recently.  It was great seeing you all. We look forward to seeing you at the next one. This is a members only benefit.

We are not currently mailing masks.

Next up: College Avenue, Friday, November 20, 2020, 10am-2pm

Where: Underpass area between the College Ave Campus Center and the Grad Student Lounge (near Panera).  You can park in Lot 26 behind the Grad Student Lounge


COVID-19 Health & Safety

Update: Health & Safety

In the revised Returning to Rutgers document, there was guidance for requests for cleaning of individual offices. We are trying to determine the procedure to request such cleaning and what it entails. Our recommendation is that you minimize the people that go into your space but if there is a need for cleaning, you can put in a work order to do so. There might be a charge through RCM for the additional service so please wait until you are actually returning so to not further burden our furloughed AFSCME brothers and sisters.

See also: AFT COVID-19 Safety Resources

Health & Safety Higher Education

COVID-19 Updates Page

We now have a dedicated page for the URA-AFT response to COVID-19, resources for our members and our reactions to Rutgers’ handling of the crisis.

Click here: COVID-19 Updates Page

COVID-19 Health & Safety

Is Rutgers serious about saving?

Jobs, Healthcare and Safety

You have probably heard rumors regarding layoffs and furloughs from various managers and schools that make the decision seem inevitable.  You may have heard threats to union leaders that Rutgers will declare a fiscal emergency and withhold the raises scheduled for July 1.   As union members, we recognize the economic dangers of this crisis…we also remember how Rutgers exploited workers in past crises, and pocketed the profits. The Executive Board of the URA has passed a resolution that empowered me, as President of the URA, to formally represent our needs at the negotiation table.

In the past week, the Coalition of Rutgers Unions met with management and offered a proposal that prioritize employees’ jobs, healthcare, and safety as the University responds to the COVID-19 crisis.  On the economic side, the union proposal protects the most vulnerable in our workforce, and demands shared sacrifice from those at the top levels of administration. Collectively, AFT unions (URA-AFT, HPAE-AFT and Rutgers AAUP-AFT) make up about 70% of the coalition by membership.

Our plan demands savings that include spending some of the $583 million dollars Rutgers holds in unrestricted reserves.

Our plan leverages State and Federal legislation to avoid the pain of layoffs for both the employee and the employer.  First, we expect all levels of management to take furloughs along with unionized workers.  Second, if we reach an agreement of a “work sharing” program, furloughed employees will be able to replace or make more than their lost income through unemployment benefits and the CARES act passed by Congress earlier this year.

By utilizing our plan, the University would save around a $100 million dollars in payroll costs without a without inflicting the pain and uncertainty of lost wages and health benefits.  We deliberately did our calculations for unionized employees to include those who would receive full salary replacement through unemployment insurance and for some, an increase in compensation, by taking advantage of the extra $600 a week authorized under the CARES act.

Our furlough proposal runs to the end of July, when the CARES act is currently scheduled to end.  The Coalition is working with the Department of Labor to create a process for claiming unemployment benefits with minimal delay.  As we learn more of those details, the URA will help members with that paperwork as needed.

Every day that management delays in implementing our proposal is dollars lost to the University as they continue to claim they are in poor financial shape.  In return for money-saving furloughs, we have made demands, including: no declaration of a fiscal emergency, no layoffs for FY21, extending layoff recall time through the hiring freeze, expanding vacation carryover, creating a hardship fund, and union representation in planning a safe re-opening process.

We call on Rutgers to respond to our proposal without further delay.  With the savings that we have proposed, Rutgers will be well prepared financially throughout the pandemic and beyond to continue the mission of the University and provide exemplary service to students, staff, community, and all stakeholders in New Jersey.

If negotiations with Rutgers management require any changes to our existing collective bargaining agreement, those changes will be presented to members for ratification.  Only union members are entitled to vote.  Any vote will be held remotely, under the changes to our union constitution which we ratified in 2019.

It is more important than ever to have our voices heard as Rutgers makes plans that impact our lives.  If you haven’t joined as a member yet, this is your chance to have a voice. If you believe that Rutgers will look out for you first, you will be disappointed. Through our union, the URA, we say that #weRnotdisposable and our work is integral to University.  Please join us now to protect your future.

Take action now.

Take a pic of yourself with working from home with a sign that reads #weRnotdisposable.

Tweet #weRnotdisposable at @RutgersU and @union1766.  Put it on your FB and share with us.  If you don’t have social media, email it to us and we will compile on our website.

Stay safe and well.  We will keep you updated as negotiations progress.

In solidarity,