Coalition of Rutgers Unions
What is work-sharing?
Under a work-sharing program, employees work reduced hours; this is also referred to as a furlough. They are paid less by their employer proportionate to their reduced hours, but the difference is made up through government unemployment benefits. At the moment, because of the first federal relief bill passed in March, almost all Rutgers employees can fully replace income lost to furlough time because of the $600-a-week federal unemployment supplement. The unions’ proposal for work-sharing at Rutgers is aimed at getting a commitment from the university to calculate furlough time based on every employee being kept whole—that is, maintaining their current income.
How can a temporary work-sharing program help Rutgers?
Our plan will not only safeguard our members, but it will also put Rutgers on a strong financial footing to deal with any revenue shortfalls down the road. We estimate that a work-sharing program will save up to $100 million in payroll costs, while our members will not suffer any loss in income, thanks to the federal unemployment booster enacted in the CARES Act, which runs through the end of July.
The only way we can access tens of millions of federal dollars to replace lost income from furloughs is if Rutgers implements this work-sharing program. That money will allow us to secure the investment necessary to avoid layoffs and spend reserves on other priorities that protect the most vulnerable.
Why propose work-sharing now?
The unique opportunity we have now to save Rutgers tens of millions of dollars while protecting the full incomes of our members is dependent on the federal CARES Act, passed by Congress in March. A provision of the legislation provides a federally funded, $600-a-week unemployment supplement to anyone who gets any benefits from the unemployment system.
This provision will expire at the end of July 2020. Without the federal booster, state unemployment benefits alone will not fully replace our incomes, so unions are proposing furloughs under the work-sharing program to run only through that expiration date. The New Jersey legislature has passed the Employee Job-Sharing Furlough Protection Act that clarifies the terms of the program.
The clock is ticking: Every week that Rutgers delays, they lose $10 million in payroll savings from work-share furloughs that would be fully made up for us through unemployment benefits.
Would I really keep my full income during a “furlough”?
Let’s take an example (below is a more complete table): a union member with an annual salary from Rutgers of $70,000, or $1,346.15 per week.
If their hours were reduced by the maximum 60% under work-sharing, they would receive each week:
- $538.46 from Rutgers (40% of their weekly salary)
- $427.80 from state unemployment (the maximum weekly unemployment benefit, prorated to 60% to cover furlough time)
- $600 from the additional federal benefit
- For a total of $538.46 + $427.80 + $600 = $1566.26, which is actually $220.11 above their usual weekly pay.
By our calculations, employees at different salary levels can fully replace their income based on different percentages of furlough time:
- Those with salaries up to $89,076 can furlough up to 60% of work time
- Those with salaries up to $115,000 can furlough up to 40% of work time
- Those with salaries up to $192,920 can furlough up to 20% of work time
- Those with salaries up to $349,076 can furlough up to 10% of work time
Frequently Asked Questions
Please click on the triangle at the start of each question to view the answer:
I’ve heard the New Jersey state unemployment system does not function well. Will I get all the money I’m owed if work-sharing is implemented?
Ultimately, yes. Once individuals apply for unemployment benefits and their applications are accepted, payment becomes a legal obligation of the government. And because we will be applying under the terms of a work-sharing program that Rutgers commits to, there will be no question of our applications being accepted.
But the New Jersey unemployment system, like every other in the United States, is beset by problems caused by an unprecedented surge in claims, and many people have had very challenging experiences with it. So delays are possible. At this point, the system is improving, and we think payments are lagging by only a week or two, but there is no guarantee that the delays won’t be longer.
There is no sugar-coating the disruption to our lives if we have to wait for a portion of our income, nor the hassles of dealing with the bureaucracy in applying for benefits. We’re working with the New Jersey Department of Labor to make the process as smooth as possible, and we expect Rutgers management to support all employees in obtaining these unemployment benefits. While no one wants to spend their time tangled up in bureaucracy, this inconvenience and disruption is a sacrifice we propose as an alternative to layoffs and to protect the most vulnerable.
What if I can’t afford to wait to receive payments from the New Jersey unemployment insurance system?
There is a risk with work-sharing furloughs that unemployment insurance benefits will be delayed in getting to our members, though we are certain that all payments will ultimately be made. Lower-paid campus workers are already more vulnerable to substantial disruptions to their lives if they were to miss a part of one paycheck, and these same workers would be furloughed for the largest percentage of their work time under our proposal that fully replaces (or better) all of our incomes through unemployment benefits.
Anticipating that delayed payments could become a major issue for some employees, we have contacted the New Jersey Department of Labor to make the process as smooth and organized as possible, and we’re asking if the agency can prioritize claims from lower-paid workers. We’re also proposing that the university work with unions to establish a “bridge loan” program to support anyone who faces difficulties during the transition to supplementing their salaries through unemployment insurance checks. These bridge loans would last a matter of weeks at most, so the university should have no trouble providing them. We are also preparing to collaborate with university staff to have support systems in place to help employees file their claims as soon as possible.
I don’t live in New Jersey. Will this work for me?
Yes. Unemployment insurance is a system that covers employees based on the location of their employer. We all work for a New Jersey employer, so we are covered by the New Jersey unemployment insurance system.
Can all Rutgers employees be furloughed and participate in a work-share program?
No. While most full-time, currently employed workers are theoretically eligible to be furloughed, some, such as essential health care workers in our hospitals, will be deemed essential and cannot reduce their hours at this time. Some faculty have their salaries funded by grants, and if the terms of those grants require work during the period when we propose a work-share program, Rutgers cannot furlough them.
There will be other particular cases (see specific examples in later FAQs) among Rutgers’ 30,000 employees that will require management to carve out exceptions to the program. The union is committed to making sure that specific situations are taken into account. But the scale of savings for Rutgers—and therefore management’s incentive to commit to our other demands along with work-sharing—depends on as many eligible employees as possible participating in furloughs at the level where their incomes will be fully replaced.
If Rutgers accepts our work-sharing proposal and we reach an agreement that saves the university $100 million in payroll costs, while maintaining our current incomes, we will work with the administration to examine particular cases where an employee’s duties or area/requirements of work may not allow participation in the program. We don’t yet have all the answers or specifically know who these individuals or groups of employees might be, but we’re confident that the program can be appropriately applied.
I’m not a U.S. citizen; I have a work visa. Will I receive unemployment benefits through work-sharing?
Unemployment insurance covers everyone with work authorization. However, our expectation is that employees with H1B visas or green cards, as well as those who expect to apply for US citizenship in the future, would not participate in the furlough program. We continue to work with our attorneys and will work with Rutgers’ lawyers before the program is finalized or implemented, but the bottom line is that we would exclude any faculty member whose visa status might be jeopardized in any way.
What about my health insurance and other benefits?
Work-sharing programs protect employer-provided benefits such as health insurance and retirement contributions. Rutgers must still make its full contribution for employees’ health insurance and the Alternate Benefit Program (our retirement accounts), regardless of what percentage of their work time they are furloughed. Employees will also be responsible for the full contributions we currently make to benefits programs. Our work-sharing proposal is structured to ensure that everyone receives their full income from a combination of pay from Rutgers and available unemployment benefits.
Why should we propose work-sharing before we have seen significant salary reductions among top management?
We are demanding a commitment from management for significant salary cuts at the top level of the administration; reduction or elimination of wasteful administrative initiatives (like Cornerstone and Infosilem) and other priorities (like Rutgers Athletics) that siphon money away from the university’s core mission; and hundreds of millions in spending from the university’s reserves. In exchange, we are willing to participate in work-sharing furloughs that will strengthen the university’s financial health and its future. But we expect management to hold up its end of the bargain.
Will I make an individual decision about participating in work-sharing?
If the unions put forward this proposal and Rutgers commits to it, all members would be subject to work-share furloughs unless they are classified as essential or otherwise excluded by agreement with the administration. We want the percentage of time on furlough to be based on every employee fully replacing their income or better. It would not be up to individual members to decide whether to accept furlough under work-sharing or the percentage of time on furlough. But by the same token, the university could not pick and choose how work-sharing is applied among employees. We are all in this together.
If I’m furloughed, am I supposed to work less? How can I work less if I still have to meet the same expectations for teaching, scholarship, and service?
Yes, under furloughs, employees are not being paid by their employer for a portion of their usual work time. For positions that are on-site and have regular hours, working that much less will be easier to manage. It will be a greater challenge for faculty, who have irregular hours, many of them spent outside of Rutgers facilities, even in normal times. Many of us struggle with work-life boundaries.
Everyone will have to meet this challenge in their own way, but if, for example, we have been furloughed for 60 percent of our work time, we should aim to work only 40 percent of the time we would normally work.
Does work-sharing mean we would literally share work or job responsibilities?
No. The term “work-sharing” is sometimes confused with job-sharing—the idea that two or more workers share the same job or position, an entirely different concept. Work-sharing is the term used by legislators in setting out the terms of programs that protect jobs through managed furloughs. What is being shared is not jobs or work responsibilities but who will pay for salaries. Under work-sharing, the employer and the government share the cost of salaries for furloughed employees as an alternative to layoffs.
Can Rutgers or the union submit bulk requests for unemployment on our behalf?
No. The state will not take bulk applications for unemployment. We are asking for support from both the university and the state to handle our cases—such as a special online portal or dedicated staff in the state government to handle our applications—but individual employees are responsible for applying for unemployment benefits.
What about those of us in health care or legal services who cannot take furloughs without abandoning clients or violating professional ethics?
Some Rutgers employees, such as health care workers, will certainly be classified as essential during the work-sharing program, and would therefore be ineligible for furloughs. In other cases, the percentage of furlough time can be adjusted to suit the special demands of particular positions. Some employees may be asked to restructure their work time so tasks that don’t involve client contact or pressing demands are compressed into a furlough period and are left undone. We will work with the university to have those situations that call for a carve-out exception appropriately addressed.
The effectiveness of a work-sharing program depends on as many employees taking part as possible. We hope members will agree that the inconvenience of restructuring work time and potentially leaving tasks undone is an acceptable trade-off to prevent layoffs and necessary to protect the most vulnerable among us.
What if my salary is funded by grants or paid under other contracts?
Any faculty whose salary is funded by grants that require them to be working during any period when work-sharing furloughs are in effect are legally obligated to work. They would not be eligible for furloughs.
What if I’m on less than a full-year contract? How will I be affected?
There are many different classifications and conditions of employment at Rutgers, including contracts covering less than the calendar year, and the union is doing more research before we commit to work-sharing to make sure every member is protected. We believe those of us who are paid throughout the year, even if our contract is based on work for nine or ten months, are considered year-round employees and able to receive unemployment benefits prorated to the length of their furloughs each week, even if the work-sharing program falls in weeks not covered by a less-than-full-year contract. We will be confirming all of these details with both Rutgers and the state Department of Labor, and we will not accept furloughs of employees who are not eligible to completely replace all of their income under the work-sharing program.
And if I make a summer salary? Those are separate appointments.
This is another area where the specifics need to be unraveled. Our contention in this work-sharing context is that many faculty who make a separate summer salary do not have a separate job in the summer—their summer salary should be considered part of year-round employment at Rutgers. If we learn otherwise, we will adjust our proposal and carve out further protections. We know there are a variety of ways that faculty draw a summer salary, including teaching, grant-funded work, and add-on summer pay under the terms of their contract. We will work with both Rutgers and the state Department of Labor to make sure we take all specific situations into careful consideration. We are committed to making sure every employee is kept 100 percent whole through this program.
I’m on sabbatical right now, so my salary is already reduced. Would work-sharing reduce it further?
No. Our proposal is designed to fully replace every faculty member’s salary at its current level during the period of furloughs. If your salary is already being adjusted because of a sabbatical, you would maintain your current income.
Can Part-Time Instructors (PTLs) who fear they won’t be rehired for the fall after the administration’s April layoff threat participate in work-sharing?
The work-sharing program does not apply to employees classified as part-time workers, so PTLs won’t be selected for targeted furloughs. This doesn’t mean that PTLs are ineligible for unemployment insurance. PTLs who aren’t rehired for the fall, along with most PTLs who do not teach summer courses, can apply for unemployment benefits; please contact [email protected] if you have questions or concerns about UI eligibility.
One of the prime objectives of proposing work-sharing by full-time employees is to pressure the administration to rescind all PTL layoffs. And the long-term goal of our union coalition is to challenge part-time contingent employment conditions for all Rutgers workers.
Wouldn’t it be better to fight against furloughs under any circumstances rather than propose our unions’ participation in work-sharing?
We are a strong faculty union that won a good contract last year by threatening to strike. We have the power to protect our members. But layoffs, furloughs, and deep spending cuts are being considered everywhere in higher education—and they will be felt most by the lowest-paid, most isolated, and least-protected members of campus communities. At Rutgers, our unions expect the administration’s initial layoff plans would affect some 1,000 staff members, mostly on the lower end of the income ladder.
We want to use our faculty union’s power to fight for all Rutgers workers. By proposing to accept work-sharing—in return for management committing itself to sacrifice at the top and dip into their financial reserves—we are fighting for the Rutgers employees who will be hit harder than faculty, in the best traditions of union solidarity. This is what it means to take our union’s commitment to fight for social justice and the common good seriously.
Under the unions’ proposal, Rutgers employees who make the least would be furloughed for the largest percentage of their work time, which would leave them more vulnerable to disruptions and delays in the unemployment benefits system. Doesn’t that mean we are penalizing the most vulnerable?
Rutgers employees furloughed for the largest percentage of their work time will, indeed, be more vulnerable to the delays and disruptions of the unemployment system. But ultimately, all unemployment payments must be made retroactively. If the system is backlogged, we will explore creating hardship funds to bridge any gaps. The lowest-paid employees ultimately may make more under the work-sharing program than their regular paychecks (see table above for example).
We wish we didn’t have to have furloughs at all, but if they are going to happen because of the unprecedented nature of the crisis, we want them to take place on a basis that will protect workers, especially the most vulnerable. The proposal for work-sharing is an explicit alternative to layoffs, which would certainly hit the lowest-paid employees harder than anyone else. We can’t control the New Jersey Department of Labor, but we think a university commitment to work-sharing on the unions’ terms can protect these workers, not penalize them.
If we reach an agreement with management on work-sharing, will we be able to vote on it before it is implemented?
Yes. Our leadership, in alliance with other Rutgers unions, has developed and put forward a work-sharing proposal for initial discussions with the administration, but we won’t commit our union on an issue so important without a vote of the Executive Council and then a vote of the whole membership. Members will have the opportunity to vote electronically. Nonmembers are welcome to join the union and participate in this vote. We’re using the same principle that we used in negotiating our contract last year—representatives of the union negotiated with management on the terms, but the final proposal was put to a vote for the entire membership to decide whether to accept it.
Will the expanded unemployment benefits have an effect on New Jersey’s already-strapped budget, leading to cuts in social services in the future?
From everything we know, the state unemployment insurance system is on firm financial footing (though there are delays and disruptions with the distribution of benefits). And the federal government is bound by the CARES Act to provide the supplemental benefits through July 25. There seems no particular risk of deeper future austerity by proposing a work-sharing program in this extraordinary crisis.
Members have a lot of questions and concerns about work-sharing. What are we going to do to address them?
There is an enormous amount of anxiety at Rutgers, like everywhere in the country and the world. We are discussing issues that we never even considered before—specifically the question of furloughs one year after we won a strong contract. It’s only natural to be fearful and cautious.
But we all know a tide of layoffs, cutbacks, and salary freezes and even reductions are rolling through higher education right now, including here in New Jersey. Because we are a strong union, we can help lead a resistance for a people-centered response to the crisis. Sacrificing, however, must start at the top. By committing to a work-sharing program, we can protect members of the community who could face outright layoffs and big pay cuts. We are operating on the basis of the old labor movement slogan: An injury to one is an injury to all.
We want to answer every question members have about our proposals, but our people-centered principles—no layoffs, protect the vulnerable, provide dignity and voice—are at the heart of all the answers we give.
- “What is work sharing and how can it help the labor market?” Melanie Gilarsky, Ryan Nunn, and Jana Parsons, Brookings Institute, Thursday, April 16, 2020
- “How People Can Keep Their Jobs and Still Get Those $600 Unemployment Benefits” Jordan Weissman, Slate, May 05, 2020.