Temple’s professional and technical employees’ union took their complaints to the street on Tuesday, marching and chanting down Broad Street over the insertion of merit pay in their new contract.
Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 1723 were supported by Temple’s faculty union, graduate assistant union and students in Temple’s Student Labor Action Project in the demonstration, which began with a rally at the Bell Tower and ended outside of Conwell Hall.
The union has been deadlocked in negotiations with the Office of Labor Relations since their contract expired at the end of October. The last negotiation session was in January.
AFSCME is demanding that it receive the same benefits of non-bargaining employees, such as increased vacation time and funeral leave. Temple is conditioning the demand with a performance-based pay system to mostly replace the current annual 3 percent across-the-board pay raises.
“This is a time that Temple is doing extremely well. The upper administration is getting big raises and bonuses, and we think that this is a very unfair system that can really lead to a lot of favoritism and can really hurt a lot of people,” AFSCME president Paul Dannenfelser said.
The proposed contract would also gradually increase the percentage that employees pay for family coverage in health care. Currently at 13.5 percent, it would increase to 17 percent after four years.
Art Hochner, president of the faculty union Temple Association of University Professionals, spoke at the rally in support of AFSCME. TAUP experienced similar stalls in its negotiations in 2005 over merit-pay and held a rally which AFSCME members attended in show of their support.
“We think every employee deserves a living wage and no one should go without a pay increase,” Hochner told the crowd. “If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to get a raise.”
The protest took place during the Student Labor Week of Action sponsored by SLAP and Jobs with Justice. The week-long event is mostly a run-up to a demonstration for AlliedBarton guards on Sunday, but it was organized in concert with AFSME’s demonstration.
“We pay obscene amounts of money to the administration for education, thus we have the right to demand justice and equality for our workers,” SLAP President Wes Weaver said. “This university would be nothing without these workers.”
Sharon Boyle, vice president of the Office of Labor Relations for Temple, said she did not immediately have information on how much of the proposed pay-raise system would be based on performance and how much would be guaranteed. But the pay-raises would be more across-the-board in the earlier years of the contract and then gradually move toward merit-pay, she said.
“[AFSCME is] asking for a lot of benefits that are offered to non-bargaining groups, and we’re willing to give them those,” Boyle said. “It’s just the university’s concerns are not being addressed.”
The Office of Human Resources sent a letter to all AFSCME members on March 24 giving a rough outline of the university’s proposed contract. The letter also stated that were a performance-based system in place, “more than 90 percent of the AFSCME bargaining unit would be eligible for base increases greater than the annual across-the-board base increases the university and the union negotiated in the last contract.”
There are currently no more scheduled negotiations. Both Boyle and the letter sent by Human Resources said the university continues to remain open for discussion.
“President [Ann Weaver] Hart should get involved in negotiations,” Dannenfelser said. “It’s time for her to get involved and for her people to come to the table and get an agreement.”
Andrew Thompson can be reached at email@example.com.