Thousands of protesters from around the country flocked to Philadelphia this summer to get their messages heard. Among these voices were Temple’s graduate students.
Temple University Graduate Students Association (TUGSA) can claim it had a productive summer. With the Republican National Convention bringing together scores of activists and media members, TUGSA joined in the protests to build stronger local coalitions for the issues that concern them.
TUGSA had a modest contingency of its members right at the center of the action participating in the advocacy for social justice. Members of TUGSA marched for workers’ rights, welfare rights, and health care issues. They took part in various events such as the Unity 2000 parade; they marched with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union – a local activist group for economic human rights, and attended a meeting in Logan to support the sinking homes issue.
As for grabbing the attention of Temple officials, TUGSA’s efforts went hardly noticed.
But this, says Rob Callahan, a member and spokesman of TUGSA, was not the only reason the graduate students took to the streets.
” It was a beautiful form of protests,” he said. “It showed a diverse group of folks who came out from different campaigns.”
And although TUGSA was not out in full force, Callahan noted that the group was able to expand its coalition and promote workers’ rights in front of a national media, even if it was not directly about their particular cause.
Callahan said, without giving particular names, that TUGSA formed ties with some politicians from both the state and city levels. According to Callahan, local clergy members and community groups also were interested in helping to push for TUGSA’s goal: to form a collective bargaining unit that has the power to negotiate with Temple’s administration.
TUGSA’s correspondence with Temple’s new president David Adamany has been mute, except for today. Callahan said he received a hand-delivered letter from someone from the president’s office Tuesday morning. The letter apparently was a response to TUGSA’s letter to Adamany, sent Aug. 2, requesting a meeting to discuss TUGSA’s ongoing struggle to form a union.
According to Callahan, the letter denied TUGSA’a request for a meeting. Callahan said the reason cited for being denied is the pending litigation with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. TUGSA is appealing the reaffirmation by the board in January, which stated that graduate students are not recognized as workers.
This is the first time the new administration, which came into office last summer with the naming of Adamany as president, has addressed TUGSA on this issue. It is consistent with the position taken by former President Peter J. Liacouras and his administration.
Since TUGSA has not had dealings with them, Callahan said the graduate students are holding off their opinions of the administration.
“It’s difficult to take a position on Adamany’s administration, because until today we heard nothing. We are reserving judgement,” he said.
TUGSA plans to have a busy fall semester.
“We want to use this semester to establish a presence to this administration,” Callahan said. Their aim is to get a fresh start and having open dialogue with this administration as often as possible, Callahan explained.
Although marching with only a small percentage of the group’s roughly 1,200 members, Callahan believes that the protests were good for TUGSA and the other groups involved.
Callahan felt that although the protests were criticized in the media for being unorganized, he felt that the press could have done a better job as well.
“The media was intent on getting a lot of sensational photos,” he said.
TUGSA, in its attempt to form a collective bargaining unit, is fighting for higher pay, better health benefits, and for the employment of a greater proportion of black graduate students assigned as teaching and research assistants.
Callahan said this group is unfairly represented based on the percentage of graduate students, which he cites as 13 percent, and the number as assistants, which he argues is about 9 percent.