The union representing faculty and professional staff at nine state colleges and universities has reached a tentative contract after 14 months of working without one. While the agreement, reached last Wednesday, was a relief for the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, the council’s president, Nicholas Yovnello, was killed in a car crash Saturday. Council of New Jersey State College Locals Executive Director Steve Young told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that Yovnello’s passing was a tragedy for all involved. He also explained the new contract, calling the agreement “defensive,” and said it maintained the status quo in most areas.
Young said the new deal is “a defensive contract” that didn’t provide the council any gains. “No union has made a gain in a contract with the state right now,” he said. He added that university presidents also offered an unprecedented number of proposals that Young said attacked the contract and some union rights.
“We have an unusual contract because no matter where you teach and no matter what you teach, whatever range and step you’re in, it’s equal,” Young said. “It provides equality for women, men, everything. And what you teach as well.”
One area the council made a compromise was by allowing colleges to negotiate sabbaticals locally. Young said the reason for the compromise was because the college presidents said they could offer more favorable conditions.
Job protection has remained the same, as well as salary, though the contract allows for a 1.75 percent pay increase for the last three years of the four-year agreement. “Quite frankly, in the fourth year of this contract, even though they’re going to get a 1 and 3/4 percent pay raise, they’re really taking a pay cut because as you may recall, the health benefits pension reform legislation passed last year. It’ll cost them more,” Young said. “They will be earning less.”
Faculty will remain tenured, but Young said the college officials did want to change some rules for professional staff. “They wanted to lessen the number of years they could get a multi-year contract,” Young said. “Right now after a probationary period and there were several years they could work towards a five-year appointment, the state and the college presidents wanted to limit that to two years.”
Young said members of the council understand the state of the economy and the challenges the institutions face. “Not only our unit, but the other public employees in New Jersey, they’re not greedy people. State workers are not greedy people,” he said. “They understand what’s going on. They understand the difficulties of revenues versus expenses in the state.”
The council has a ratification vote scheduled in September, which Young said will give the faculty — who are 10-month employees — the opportunity to fully understand what they’re voting on and have meetings on campus.
“We anticipate that we will get a successful ratification, although reluctantly,” he said.