Temple University Graduate Students Vote To Unionize
Graduate students at Temple University voted overwhelmingly to unionize in the first election of its kind in Pennsylvania.
The students, who work as teaching and research assistants, voted 290-16 last month to be represented by the Temple University Graduate Students Association, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
The union can now begin contract negotiations with the Temple administration. The union wants better pay, enhanced health care coverage and a lighter workload for its members. Most assistants make $11,000 per year, the union says.
“This of course confirms the support we’ve had all along, that we knew was there,” says union organizer Rob Calahan, a Temple teaching assistant and doctoral candidate in English literature. “It gives us a mandate to go to the table and negotiate a strong contract for the folks who teach and conduct research here at the university.”
The election was made possible by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB), which ruled in favor of the union last October.
In legal arguments opposing the election, the state-supported university had contended that graduate students did not have the same right as other workers to unionize because their jobs are part of their education.
The union argued that the university still benefited from the work of graduate students, and that many of the students’ jobs had little to do with their fields of study.
Ballots were counted by a state labor board agent with representatives of both the union and the university observing.
Temple’s professors are already unionized. Their union, the Temple Association of University Professionals, is also affiliated with the AFT.
“This is an overwhelming mandate for the union and it shows that graduate employees feel they need a voice in important decisions that are being made by the university,” says AFT spokesman Jamie Horwitz.
Temple released a statement saying only that the university will follow PLRB procedures. The labor relations board has to certify the election results, after which the university has 20 days to appeal.
On March 1, New York University became the nation’s first private university to recognize and agree to bargain with a graduate students’ union. Public universities have recognized graduate student unions in New York, Florida, Oregon, New Jersey, Kansas, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin.
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