After months of appeals through the courts, after rallies, protests, and wrangling with the university, Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) has won the right to organize.
They are now considered employees for the duties they perform, according to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. The decision came after TUGSA appealed the ruling of a Labor Relations Hearing Examiner who said in January that the students are not employees and should not be recognized as a bargaining unit.
The Hearing Examiner’s conclusion was based on two cases from 1976 involving medical interns at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and residents from Albert Einstein Medical Center. The decisions in those cases cited the Public Employees Relations Act, which does not recognize students who are working as part of the requirements to obtain a degree from forming bargaining units.
This was the basis of the ruling against TUGSA that kept them from forming a union.
In March, TUGSA appealed the decision and it was brought up to the state board. In their ruling, they rejected the rationale of the Hearing Examiner, claiming that these are an entirely different set of circumstances than what applied in the medical interns’ cases.
In the opinion issued Oct. 17, they said, “In this case, the Graduate Assistants perform vital teaching and research services for Temple not, as the student-workers at issue in Cedars-Sinai and PAIR, as a required part of their educational curriculum, but by their own choice.”
This is what TUGSA has argued throughout their attempts to be recognized by Temple. The decision by the board rejects Temple’s argument, clearing the way for a union election within TUGSA and negotiations with the university over a contract.
The next step is for the hearing examiner to rule on which graduate assistants are covered by the ruling as being workers by their own choice.
The 1,100 members of TUGSA are made up of teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants, dissertation fellows, and future faculty fellows. It is not yet clear which of these positions will not be eligible or if any of them will be excluded. That is what the future ruling of the hearing examiner will clear up.
In a recent statement, Temple’s Provost, Dr. Corrine Caldwell, said the best interest of the students is always what is first and Temple will follow through with the legal rulings.
“We will continue to work within the legal process and the hearing officer’s mandate,” she said.
Temple issued a statement last month consistent with their position throughout the court process that they would continue to follow through with the legislative process.
TUGSA is trying to get Temple officials to sit down with them and agree with their move to form a union. By doing this, TUGSA and Temple officials will not have to wait for the Hearing Examiner’s further findings of fact regarding, which graduate assistants are included in the decision.
“We would like to work things out amicably and quickly,” said TUGSA organizer Rob Callahan. “If we cannot do it the easy way, we will have to do it the hard way.”
Callahan said that the members of TUGSA were extremely happy with the decision, but not surprised by it.
On Nov. 2, City Council passed a resolution calling on Temple University to recognize the graduate students as a collective bargaining unit in light of the PALRB ruling.
The resolution was promptly delivered to the office of Temple President David Adamany, who was not at his office at the time, with a request for a meeting between the two sides.
Since the Hearing Examiner’s initial ruling back in January, TUGSA has been staging numerous rallies in an attempt to get the attention of Temple officials. Because Temple was waiting for the court decisions, they hardly discussed the issue formally with TUGSA.
TUGSA’s effort to form a union is based on their dissatisfaction with the University over the amount of pay they receive for teaching, mostly undergraduate introductory courses. They are not happy with the medical plan the University offers, which carries a $500 deductible, that many said deterred them from visiting a doctor for things other than serious problems.
In March, TUGSA held a work-in at Tuttleman Learning Center to showcase the work that they do and to prove it was not part of their pursuit of a degree.
They held many rallies around the campus, but now they can put those actions to rest.
With the backing of City Council, TUGSA is hoping this speeds the process along for their eventual vote on membership and to a face to face meeting with Temple over the issues concerning their work.
“We want to work out the last remaining legal technicalities,” Callahan said.
A few days before City Council passed the resolution, members of TUGSA met with other organizations from the North Philadelphia area to discuss labor relations.
Tom Cronin, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 47, was the first to speak at the meeting held on Oct. 30.
When asked what his experience as a union leader has been when dealing with Temple, Cronin replied simply, “not good.”
Cronin stressed he would like to see some changes at Temple including a fair agreement consisting of decent wages and a benefit package, without sacrificing wages.
Vicki Milhouse, organizer for the United Childcare Union and former Temple employee, offered her organization’s assistance to TUGSA.
“The only way to gain respect is to stick together,” Millhouse said.
Darcell Waters is the president of the Nelson Brown/People’s Village Community Organization, which is located near Temple.
Waters said there is a resentment of union passed down from parents and grandparents based on the belief that Temple used deception to gain land and buildings.
She referred to the situation as “master and slave” with policies based on “control issues.” Waters said the community was “being told what to do.”
TUGSA is hoping that with the help of the community and city of Philadelphia they will have an easier time bargaining with Temple.