Rutgers University and its largest faculty union have reached a tentative four-year agreement that would raise its members' pay by an average of 8.25 percent and require the university to declare a fiscal emergency before freezing salaries.

Rutgers and the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers announced what they called an "imaginative and innovative agreement" Thursday in a joint statement sent to faculty. It would cover nearly 4,700 of the union's members.

For months, Rutgers has been negotiating with unions that represent 20,000 of its more than 24,400 faculty and staff.

Two other unions, Communications Workers of America Local 1040 and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68, announced Thursday that they had ratified new four-year contracts through June 30, 2018.

Teamsters Local 97 previously ratified a contract.

The Rutgers AAUP-AFT contract is to be retroactive to Sept. 1, 2014, and run through June 30, 2018. The previous contract expired Aug. 31, 2014.

A series of merit and across-the-board raises would add up to the average of 8.25 percent increase for members, said Patrick Nowlan, executive director of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

Every faculty member covered by the contract - including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track professors and graduate and teaching assistants - would see an immediate raise of $2,345, retroactive to September. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, some would receive merit raises averaging 2 percent.

An across-the-board hike of 2.125 percent would take effect next year and another merit raise, averaging 2.125 percent, would take effect July 1, 2017.

"It's not a perfect agreement, but I think we've gotten a lot of the things that we wanted, and especially for people who are on the lower end of the salary scale; those are people who had really been hurting," said Julie Still, a Rutgers-Camden librarian and president of the campus' union chapter.

Also under the contract, minimum annual pay for a full-time, non-tenure-track faculty member on every campus will increase to $56,169 from $39,058 - a 43.8 percent increase.

Assistant professors - entry-level tenure-track faculty - will see their minimum pay increase to $61,786 from $44,839, a 37.8 percent increase.

"Rutgers strives to compensate its employees fairly; we have always placed a high value on faculty and staff excellence, and we have provided our employees with salary and benefit packages that are among the most competitive in the nation for public research universities," Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor wrote in a statement.

Rutgers unions have been in negotiations with the university for months.

A coalition calling itself Rutgers One had held a series of "Reclaim Rutgers" events across the campuses, including one Tuesday with AFT president Randi Weingarten and State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).

One of the major sticking points for the AAUP-AFT was a "subject to" clause that tied raises to university funding.

"We needed to do something with the 'subject to' language," Nowlan said. "It couldn't sit there and not have any definition to it."

In 2010, Rutgers cited that provision in imposing a unilateral salary freeze.

Under the tentative deal, Rutgers can only invoke the "subject to" provision after declaring a fiscal emergency and providing financial documents and explanation to the union. Rutgers and the union would then negotiate how to address the financial situation.

"This is a good step in the right direction," Still said. "They can't just say that 'oh, it's a fiscal emergency,' they have to actually show us some reason why it's a fiscal emergency."

The Rutgers AAUP-AFT will begin mailing ballots Friday, a spokesman said.

Negotiations remain open for more than 13,000 other Rutgers employees who remain without contracts, including more than 2,300 members of the Union of Rutgers Administrators (which is affiliated with the AFT), and 1,400 members of the American Association of University Professors-Biomedical and Health Sciences New Jersey.