Call For Health Insurance Relief

Healthcare contributions are going up. Open Enrollment has begun. Don’t choose until you know.

Our fight for affordable healthcare continues. We can each play a role in protecting health insurance costs right now.

Be sure to call the Governor’s office and ask him to use remaining American Rescue Plan Funds to provide relief from this increase and the harm to our members who are already struggling and working without a contract. Call Governor Murphy at 833-479-1993.

Call on your break or at lunch – not after hours. You’ll be connected with the Governor’s staff.

Tell them:

My name is ______________ and I work at Rutgers in (Dept.). I am calling to ask the Governor to use ARP and any other budgetary funds to stop any increase to my healthcare contributions. Any relief provided for towns and municipalities must include Rutgers employees. Thank you.


NJ’s public workers rally in Trenton to protest historic health insurance increase

Katie Sobko of Gannett’s Trenton Bureau covered the Sept. 13 rally calling for fairness in health care costs. 

Christine O’Connell, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators-American Federation of Teachers, said the health care increase would effectively translate to a pay cut, “so if they want to charge more, they need to pay us more.”

The Coalition of Rutgers Unions includes more than 11,000 members and has been negotiating a contract with the university. O’Connell noted that the school gets “tons of state and federal money.”

“They just want to pass on costs to the workers that make the university work, from the dining services and student counselors to residence life,” O’Connell said.

Then, referring to a recent investigation into lavish spending on food delivery by Rutgers football, she added: “We don’t have access to free DoorDash or any of those perks.”


Student Debt Relief

The Biden-Harris administration will cancel up to $20,000 for borrowers who received Pell grants as students, and up to $10,000 for individuals earning less than $125,000 annually and households earning less than $250,000. The administration has also proposed changes to income-driven repayment systems and permanent fixes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which will be life-changing for millions of borrowers. Here are the Education Department statement and the White House fact sheet. In the coming weeks, we will continue to share more information about how borrowers can easily access these new types of loan forgiveness. Here is what your members need to do now to take steps to access this relief. 

  1. Most important, make sure all their information is up-to-date on the federal student loan website and with their loan servicers, because some loan forgiveness will be automatic. 
  2. Sign up for Summer, an online student loan management platform, as soon as possible. This exclusive AFT member benefit will provide individual support to help members untangle all the loan repayment plans and rules and get on a path to loan forgiveness through their union. 
  3. Attend a weekly student debt webinar. These are held every Thursday at 7 p.m. and cover the latest student debt information in detail. Register here.

The AFT will be keeping members updated as Federal Student Aid rolls out the paperwork necessary to apply for the relief announced yesterday. We will be sharing more information as we receive it. To obtain the up-to-$20,000 in cancellation, most borrowers will have to complete an application that will be made available by Dec. 31, 2022 via the federal student loan website. Also on Dec. 31, the pause on student loans payments is scheduled to end. Members should expect that payments will resume beginning Jan. 1, 2023. 

Yesterday’s announcement did not change the deadline to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness under a limited waiver; all borrowers must  apply by Oct. 31, 2022. Everyone working in public service who has federal student debt can and should apply for PSLF immediately. AFT members can do this and get free help by signing up for Summer.


NJ State House Rally September 13th

Fight the Drastic Increase to Our Health Benefits Contributions!

All are welcome! Bring your coworkers, your family, your congregation, your community to fight to keep our healthcare affordable! Wear your union colors!

Tuesday, September 13 Statehouse Annex

12pm noon Trenton, NJ


Say ‘No’ to health insurance increases

Your health insurance costs are going up unless we act together to stop it. We call on all URA negotiations unit employees to Call the Governor to say “No” to health insurance cost increases!

The NJ State Health Benefits Commission received a preliminary recommendation to increase premiums for state and local government health benefits plans by approximately 21% starting in 2023. These are preliminary recommendations; no final rates have been set yet. The recommendations and the data on which they are based are under close review now.

Despite the State surplus over the past fiscal year and the amount of Federal aid that has come to NJ, Horizon and the Governor’s office is proposing to increase your health insurance simply because our members are using the benefits they already pay into now that doctors offices and hospitals have opened back up. 

We are asking all URA negotiations unit employees to call the Governor’s office and let him know this is unacceptable. Use savings from 2020 and 2021.  Use federal COVID funds to cover increases in costs. 

Call the Governor’s office now at 833–479‑1993!


Mental Health First and Wellness

Stress … Grief … Fear … “The New Normal” … are all around us. 

URA-AFT invites you to Mental Health First Aid and Wellness with Mr. Leven Chuck Wilson, MSW, DHL, Assistant Director, AFT Health Issues.

Skills for staff to nourish our own mental wellness at work, and support others to do the same. 

July 26 – Newark, Room 020, CLJ Building 
July 27 – New Brunswick,  Room 115, Labor Education Center, Cook Campus

12:00- 4 p.m. Lunch will be provided. 

RSVP by July 22, to 

Union release time is available for URA building reps and stewards. 

In order to provide better mental health and wellness support for our members, URA is looking to build our own Mental Health First Aid team.  If you are willing to commit to this, with ongoing training and a commitment to assist at least two members who may be referred to you , contact  Release time can be provided for those volunteers. 

If you are primarily interested in learning for your own wellness, you will need to use your own time.  We promise it will be a great mental health day.


Reproductive Rights = Workers Rights

URA-AFT supports reproductive choice and stands with people seeking access to abortion and related health care. Workers must have the right to make the profoundly personal choice of whether and when to bear children. The overturning of Roe vs. Wade is dangerous and directly impacts the right to privacy of our members. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization court opinions put at risk privacy-enshrined rights to contraception, interracial marriage and same-sex marriage. 

We stand in solidarity in the fight for reproductive justice and join fellow unions calling on legislators to take immediate steps to codify the federal right to abortion. We call on our U.S. Senators to protect reproductive rights and due process of law by ending the Senate filibuster rule. This crucial action can help end minority rule in the United States and open the door to government of, by and for the people. 

As state and federal governments enact laws that attack working people, URA-AFT will continue to fight for the issues which impact our members and the communities in which we live.


Tell Rutgers: Do Not End Expanded Telecommuting

On June 30, our current telecommuting arrangement expires. We are writing to demand the continuation of expanded telecommuting or “telework” until we sign our next contract, be that before or after June 30, 2022. The perfect storm of a lingering pandemic, historically high fuel prices, inflation, and the climate crisis tell us that this is the time for Rutgers to take bold steps towards developing a 21st Century workplace and expanding telework options for all staff in alignment with the Rutgers Climate Action Plan and the Rutgers Academic Master Plan. URA-AFT has been negotiating and advocating for expanded telecommuting options since 2007. Over and over we have heard “we’re not ready.” In March 2020, everything changed and Rutgers management realized that telework was essential to University operations. Under pressure, and without negotiating, management sent thousands of us home to work remotely. Throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic, the resilience and flexibility of staff have ensured that Rutgers has maintained excellence in research, teaching, and service. In the midst of so much loss and uncertainty, we reimagined work, productivity, and work-life balance.


Bargaining Team Ready for Negotiations with Management

In the URA-AFT membership meeting on Monday, April 11, URA members elected our contract bargaining team. As URA’s previous report noted, the team includes members from a wide range of locations and departments.

“The diversity is planned and strategic,” said Christine O’Connell, president of URA. “It’s important for us to be representative in as many ways as we possibly can, so we encourage folks from all over our union to get involved.”

The bargaining team thus not only includes members from New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden, but also a member from the off-campus membership of URA. 

“It’s a very exciting thing to be involved in,” said Alexandra DelCollo, who works as a senior program coordinator for Rutgers Cooperative Extension. “I’m looking forward to giving a voice to the off-campus community in this upcoming contract.”

However, while each member has their own particular experiences with their individual managers and departments, the team shares the belief that management has failed to hear and meet the needs of workers.

“Upper management is incredibly out of touch with the actual workers at Rutgers,” said Barbara Nowakowski, a program coordinator in New Brunswick. “I don’t think that they understand the disparity between our lives and theirs, for example, the need for some people to work second jobs in order to make ends meet.”

Ryan Csordas, an administrative assistant in New Brunswick, echoed Nowakowski’s words. 

“Rutgers management just views us as a cost, and, ultimately, they lack empathy for workers. They always put profits before us, even though they’re supposed to be a non-profit.”

This distance between management and workers was accentuated during the pandemic. For example, despite the success of remote work situations, many union members found themselves returning to workplaces that failed to meet health recommendations.

“I felt like we were all guinea pigs at a time when we didn’t have to be,” said Charles Basden, a senior academic program coordinator in New Brunswick.

“Many members were working in buildings that were too hot, too cold, or not properly ventilated. It seemed that management was meeting their need for in-person work schedules at the expense of membership health.”

At times, the work conditions were not only unsafe but entirely arbitrary.

“The sorts of conditions you were placed under came down to your supervisor, to what your supervisor thought was a valid thing to be doing, or what your supervisor thought was safe or unsafe,” said Joshua Eaise, an academic counselor with Newark’s NJ-STEP program. “There wasn’t really a lot of recourse for folks who found themselves put in unsafe situations or contexts.”

On top of health and safety issues, management laid off a great number of employees during the pandemic. Though some eventually returned to Rutgers, the experience created negative feelings toward management and URA.

“There really is animosity and resentment among our membership,” said Justin Esperon, who serves as URA treasurer and who was out of work for over a year during the pandemic. 

“Even though we did what we could during the pandemic, people hold both the university and the union responsible for their experiences, and it’s going to take time for them to get over it all.”

Despite the layoffs, however, the strong language in the URA contract has ensured that all dining workers who  wanted to return to Rutgers have been recalled to their positions with their sick bank, vacation accrual rates, and salaries intact. Additionally, both annual raises have been applied to their salaries, even if members were out of work when the raises took effect.

In their upcoming negotiations with management, the bargaining team plans to introduce proposals that address key points, including across-the-board and longevity-based wage increases, fair pay for additional work, telework options, and health and safety safeguards, among others.

Each member of the bargaining team has their own perspective on URA proposals. For example, for Mikaela Maria, who is a coordinator of administrative services in Camden, telecommuting is the most important issue on the agenda.

“The last two years of telecommuting have changed my relationship to work in a really positive way,” she said. “I have more time at home, more time for my family and my friends, and that work-life balance is really important to me and to the other members that I’ve talked to.”

For others like Barry Bailey, however, wage increases, along with health and safety protections, are the most important points of contention, especially in the context of rising inflation.

“I’m towards the end of my career here at Rutgers,” said Bailey, who works as a foreperson for Cook-Douglass grounds. “The world is a different place than it was four years ago, and I’m thinking that I can help push our raise to be bigger than it usually is.”

The main priorities of our union are largely informed by a member survey, by monthly membership meetings, and by grievances filed between the last contract and this one. 

“Our union is a democracy,” said Alessandra Sperling, who works as a department administrator in New Brunswick. “When we sit at that bargaining table, we’re sitting at the table with our entire membership behind us, and that’s what gives us the collective power to even out the scale between us and management.”

Members of the bargaining team consistently emphasized the need for URA membership to be involved in the contract process and in our union as a whole.

“In everything that we do as a union, we act as a collective support system,” said Greg Rusciano, who serves as the URA director. “During and beyond these contract negotiations, we need to maximize that supportive structure, so, whenever the next pandemic or whatever comes our way, we’re that much more ready for it and can help each other out.”

Bailey agreed. “This union is our backbone,” he said. “We’ve got to stand behind it.”

The first bargaining date between management and our union is set for Wednesday, May 11. The URA bargaining team looks forward to bringing bold proposals to the negotiating table on behalf of our members.


AFT Leader Meeting

URA leaders from across our campuses, Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick attended the AFT Eastern Regional Leader Meeting at the Marriott Marquis in NYC April 30 and May 1. It was an opportunity for our leaders to learn more about AFT programs, legislative concerns and how our action (or inaction) in elections matter to our work, and new organizing methods for us to implement. We also had an opportunity to meet and learn from other AFT leaders.