Over the past year, conflict between the Temple University Graduate Student Association and Temple University has been flaring. On Dec. 12, 1999 TUGSA filed a petition with the University for the right to hold an election for the right to unionize with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Their petition was approved on Oct. 17, 2000 and elections were set for Feb. 27 and 28 of this year. The elections had to be postponed, however.
According to TUGSA, the problem began when the University administration released a list of eligible voters, leaving a substantial number of people off the list. As a result of this action, TUGSA had to postpone the election until those people were put on the list. Over 100 names were added to the list; however, some were still left off. In spite of these people remaining off the list, the unionization election is still scheduled for March 27 and 28 in the Liacouras Center from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Harriet Goodheart, Temple’s News Bureau director did not return phone calls.
Rob Callahan, a graduate student who is taking a year off to be TUGSA’s full-time staff and is also serving on the steering committee for the right to unionize, is dismayed with the events that have happened. He claims that the University has tried to block TUGSA for years. There are four objectives that TUGSA is campaigning for in their fight to unionize: a living wage, affirmative action, healthcare and quality education.
According to Callahan, there have been problems between the two parties in the past. While graduate students and teaching assistants are considered to be University employees by the labor board, Temple claimed they did not have the same rights as other university employees, mainly the right to unionize. He also claims that graduate employees are seen as a source of cheap labor and do not receive a living wage or any benefits.
In a survey conducted by TUGSA, 80 percent of Temple graduate employees find their pay “inadequate.” Temple’s graduate students are paid below the average. Another survey claims 69 percent of teaching assistants nationwide make more than teaching assistants as Temple. As a result, graduate assistant pay is not enough to live in Philadelphia and works as an obstacle for timely degree completion. The pay for Temple graduate employees is $11,000 per year.
According to Callahan, part of the opposition was that by having a union it would cost Temple money. “In the grand scheme of things, in terms of Temple’s overall budget and surplus, these are agreements that would not cost Temple much.” But he also sees the conflict as a power struggle. “It is a matter of power, whether a large group of employees will have a voice in their jobs and at their university,” said Callahan.
The issues of health insurance and a living wage are the top concerns of University graduate employees. According to the TUGSA survey of graduate employees, 85 percent of the respondents named health insurance as their top concern, on a scale from 1 to 5, and 81 percent rated a living wage with a similar score.
Temple graduate students are dissatisfied with the administration’s commitment to quality education; 60 percent of graduate employees found the training they received to be either “inadequate” or “grossly inadequate.” Graduate students are responsible for a third off the teaching at Temple. They feel they deserve “a workforce with a voice in the conditions that affect the quality of education at Temple.”
In spite of the events that have occurred between TUGSA and Temple University in the past, Callahan is “hoping that this election will lead to a new relationship with administration. One where we cooperate to reasonable agreements and move things forward.”