NJ courts have stopped school strikes before. Why does Rutgers strike keep going?
🔴 Gov. Phil Murphy asked Rutgers not to seek court intervention in the faculty strike
🔴 The school agreed provided progress is made during talks at Murphy's office
🔴 One editorial says Murphy has slanted talks towards the union
Rutgers University has so far resisted taking legal action forcing striking unions at the request of Gov. Phil Murphy but there is precedent for courts to get involved with school strikes.
Members of three unions representing full and part-time professors, lecturers and graduate students walked picket lines at the school's three campuses Wednesday for a third day as talks continued with involvement from Murphy and his staff.
“The governor also asked us to delay taking legal action asking the courts to order strikers back to work so that no further irreparable harm is caused to our students and to their continued academic progress,” Rutgers spokeswoman Dory Devlin said in a statement. “We agreed to his request to refrain from seeking an injunction while it appears that progress can be made.”
The campus continues to be open and classes are scheduled as usual despite the strike.
The Wall Street Journal in an editorial Wednesday accused Murphy of helping the unions with his request. As governor, he should be on "management's" side, according to the editorial board.
"The university and faculty failed to agree after 10 months of talks but administrators are now under political pressure to cave," the Journal's editorial board wrote. "The courts could have removed the strike as a bargaining chip if Mr. Murphy had let Rutgers seek an injunction."
Both sides have differing opinions about whether or not a strike by public employees is illegal. The school believes a strike by public employees in New Jersey has already been ruled illegal by state courts. The union says that the state Constitution and laws do not address the matter.
A precedent for stopping a strike
Attorney Frederic Knapp, the former Morris County Prosecutor currently with the firm Laddey Clark & Ryan, told New Jersey 101.5 the college would be within its rights to ask for an injunction. He is also on the panel of Grievance Arbitrators, Mediation and Factfinding, New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission.
"The law, to my knowledge, has not changed in probably 50 years since the adoption of the PERC statute in 1968. Public employees in New Jersey are prohibited from striking. The procedure is that the employer has the option of applying in Superior Court for an injunction to order the employees to return to work," Knapp said. "The Superior Court judge would then make a decision whether or not the employees are in violation of the law."
Rutgers could then get a court order compelling employees back to work or risk being subject to being in contempt of court and fines. If a striking worker refuses to comply with a back-to-worker order, an employer could bring civil contempt charges. Each of them would have to be named individually, according to Knapp.
History of school strikes in NJ
Teachers have gone on strike before in New Jersey ranging from the five-week strike by Newark teachers in 1971 to a 2-hour strike by the Matawan-Abedeen school district in 1975.
During a strike in 2001 in Middletown, 228 teachers chose jail rather than return to classrooms. After a week, the strike ended and the teachers were released. A judge ended a strike after one day in Jersey City in 2018.