Temple’s Board of Trustees received a chilly welcome from the graduate student’s union at the board’s quarterly meeting on March 12.
About 25 members of the Temple University Graduate Student’s Union picketed for two hours outside Sullivan Hall, where the meeting was taking place. The union is protesting the recent postponement of contract talks by the University.
TUGSA targeted the Board of Trustees meeting after a request to allow a union representative to address the meeting was denied. Before the meeting began, union members placed a letter on the seat of each trustee that detailed TUGSA’s contract demands and the recent postponement of contract talks. The letter was removed from the seats before the start of the meeting.
“We’re here to express our frustrations to the trustees,” said union member April Logan, and English grad student. The union is looking for “creative ways to make life [on campus] more uncomfortable,” she added. “Not to disrupt learning for the undergraduates, just to bring attention to the talks.”
Several union members walked in during the meeting and stood in silence. Board chairman Howard Gittis acknowledged their presence and said that he hoped a settlement would be reached soon.
The union’s rhetoric is changing as the one-year anniversary of their 290-16 unionization vote approaches. During the rally, chants of “No contract, no peace” changed to “No contract, no work” as the trustees left the meeting. In the past, the union has not made reference to a work stoppage.
“Classes at Temple have not been interrupted due to a labor dispute since a month-long faculty strike in 1990,” the union said in a press release. “But Temple’s new president, David Adamany, has a long history of contentious labor relations. In his fifteen years as president of Wayne State University in Detroit, he forced the faculty union out on five strikes; in his one year stint as CEOP of the Detroit public school system, teachers struck.”
“[We want] fair pay and fair respect,” union organizer Rob Callahan said at the end of the rally. “We’ll be back until we get this contract.”
TUGSA voted to unionize on March 28, 2001. The board of trustees recognized the union last September and negotiations began in November. Talks occurred intermittently between then and February 28, when negotiations were postponed for three weeks by Temple’s lead negotiator Robert Birnbauer, who was going on vacation.
“They’ve had plenty of time,” Logan said. “We have given them proposals on all the contract issues, but they have offered no contract language on the economic issues (wages and healthcare).”
Graduate students are currently paid $11,000 per year, which the union contends is not enough to live on in Philadelphia. The union also wants full paid health coverage and better training for their work. Graduate students perform about 30 percent of academic work at Temple, including teaching classes, assisting in research and leading recitation sessions.