After nearly three years of legal battling, the Temple University Graduate Students Association has finally achieved union recognition.
The resolution was affirmed on Wednesday, March 28 after two days of voting, which was conducted by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
The final vote was overwhelmingly in favor of TUGSA union representation, with 290 votes cast for TUGSA unionization, and 16 votes against it.
TUGSA’s next venture is to establish a committee to negotiate employment terms with Temple University. Committee members will be determined in a future TUGSA meeting.
“We are overjoyed, this is a victory we’ve been working toward for years,” Rob Callahan, a member of the TUGSA steering committee said. “We knew all along that once a vote was possible, there would be overwhelming support for TUGSA. Now that we’ve achieved union status, we can begin to work for things like a living wage, health care, and respect for our educational institution.”
Callahan said that this is the third year that a majority of graduate students have shown majority support for unionization. There are currently 522 graduate students who receive financial aid in the form of Teaching and Research Assistantships.
Now that the votes have been tallied, the election results must be certified by the Hearing Examiner of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Once this is accomplished, TUGSA and Temple University have 20 days to decide whether to file exceptions.
TUGSA has been battling opposition from Temple University since February of 1999, when they initially filed their petition requesting unionization.
Legal representatives from Temple argued that graduate students as opposed to professors are not employees and are therefore not qualified to form a union.
That statement was overturned in October of 2000, with the intervention of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
TUGSA’s efforts have received support from the American Federation of Teachers for two years.
“I’ve been incredibly disappointed at the manner in which Temple has dealt with TUGSA. The vote should have been allowed right after TUGSA’s petition was filed,” said Susan Sierra, a representative for the AFT who has been personally assisting TUGSA.
Sierra noted that the salary that Temple graduate students are paid is ranked within the lowest third tier of graduate student salaries nationwide.
On March 28, 2001, Temple’s Office of News and Media Relations issued a statement in response to the election. “As we have previously stated, the University intends to follow the PLRB procedure. As always, the University will be guided by its primary mission to provide an outstanding education to its graduate, undergraduate, and professional students.”
Representatives of TUGSA have complained that Temple has been using public tax dollars to invest in legal fees to battle TUGSA’S union efforts.
Once unionization is official, TUGSA can begin to pursue solutions to the grievances that were originally presented on February 4, 1998, when TUGSA members convened to draft a statement of their platform.
The platform includes a demand for employee recognition for graduate students, arguing that cash grants should not be deemed “awards”, but rather payment for valuable services performed in the areas of teaching and research.
TUGSA has also demanded a living wage and health insurance for funded student workers and part-time faculty. Many prospective professional students are lured to other colleges and universities who offer better payment arrangements.
Representatives of TUGSA also point out the need for improved educational conditions in the University. Many graduate students feel that proper instruction for their undergraduate students is impossible, because class sizes are too large for the necessary personal attention.
Once the election results are certified by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, the employment conditions of Temple’s funded graduate students will be left to the bargaining power of TUGSA.