Following nearly four years of hard work and campaigning, this February will change the way the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board views the Temple University Graduate Student Association and could prove to be setback for the university.
Unusual campaigning started just this semester for the election. Unusual, because the election won’t directly decide any of the issues that TUGSA is fighting for. What the election will do is allow all eligible graduate students to vote either yes or no for having TUGSA represent them when in talks with the university.
Should a majority of the graduate employees vote yes, the PLRB will then officially recognize TUGSA as a union. PLRB will be monitoring the election as the required third party.
“The election will decide whether we [TUGSA] are a union that can negotiate with the university for the issues,” said Rob Callahan, full-time organizer and member of the steering committee. Callahan has taken a year off to devote his time to TUGSA. As a graduate student, he studied in the English department.
TUGSA has part of the requirements in the can already, but not everything. According to Callahan, the organization has held a majority of the graduate employees for the past three years. But, Temple has yet to produce the list of graduate employees who can vote. Callahan said that the university has promised the list for months now.
Temple has until ten days prior to the election to notify TUGSA of eligible employees, which leaves little time. Expected election days are February 27 and 28, possibly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on campus.
All of these events fall into the category of “optimistic future.” John Langel, a Temple lawyer from Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll said that Temple has a legal right to appeal the outcome of the election, but that it will be “decided in the future.”
Any kind of appeal is expected being that Temple is still “taking the same position,” which means they oppose a graduate employee union. The process, which has gone through a hearing examiner and PLRB, would next move to the court of common pleas, then to the commonwealth court and ending in the state’s Supreme Court should both sides take the case to that point.
Should TUGSA win in the end, the union and university must then sit down to negotiate a contract. That contract must then be approved by union members before taking effect.
TUGSA first started back in 1997, but it wasn’t until 1998 when the group was fully organized and ready to take on Temple. In that time, leadership of the college has changed, but according to Callahan there is no noticeable change in the leadership’s position on TUGSA’s demands.
Those demands include a living wage, better healthcare, safer work environment and enforcement of affirmative action.
Since the fight between TUGSA and Temple began, Temple has made minor advances to its graduate employees. The lowest healthcare package remains unchanged, according to Callahan, though the middle and higher packages have become both more affordable and more comprehensive. Temple has also modestly increased the wages it pays its graduate employees.
The graduate employees have support from the American Federation of Teachers, of which it is an affiliate, and from Philadelphia’s City Council, which upheld the PLRB ruling that Temple recognize TUGSA as a union.
Temple’s stance stems from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling of 1978, which said that interns and residents are not employees and can therefor not unionize. Yale and Penn State University are both opposing graduate employee unions, as did New York University, but the labor relations board for that state said that students there had the right to unionize.
To date, some 28 different schools throughout the nation have recognized graduate employee unions.