Union is not a dirty word: A look into the fight to unionize.
Perseverance Conquers. This is the motto of Temple University, a school that once prided itself on its unwavering perseverance.
However, the prestigious University has recently been in the spotlight for its mistreatment of its graduate workers. Graduate students at the university have been on strike since January, citing poor working conditions, low pay and a lack of benefits including healthcare and leave. The current strike has garnered the attention of many students and workers across the county and has shown us that unions should be taken seriously on and off campus.
For the Temple University Graduate Students Association (TUGSA), the fight to unionize has been ongoing since 1997. In 2022, TUGSA started key negotiations with Temple, but with Temple Administration holding firm, over 750 graduate and undergraduate students have protested and held strikes against the university.
Unions are an essential part of workers’ rights. It is a strong staple in American society and gives voice to those who might otherwise be taken advantage of. According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup, 68% of Americans strongly support labor unions. In fact, this approval is the highest it has ever been since 1965. The survey also found that more than 60% of union workers joined their unions because of the chance of better pay, working conditions and benefits.
With more Americans supporting unions, it seems imperative that companies negotiate and act in good faith with formed unions. We see that is not the case with some. Many union workers are negatively affected by companies delaying negotiations or are afraid of being targeted.
According to a recent report from NPR, a Temple University student was told by the administration that their tuition would be revoked because of their participation in the strike. This backlash is not solely at Temple, however.
Stalling negotiations is just one union-busting tactic many companies use to disengage and deflate unions and workers. The Economic Policy Institute states that in 2019, nearly 45% of employers were charged with breaking federal laws against unions.
“There was retaliation,” says Sarah Campbell, a third-year Psychology major at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “We weren’t official, but my coworkers and I discussed if a union was necessary. Somehow our boss found out and laid off my coworker. My hours were docked. I stayed at that job for another nine months and it wasn’t pretty.”
Retaliation because of unionizing can also be felt from the side of the union itself.
Kathryn Rentz, a Senior in Information Systems at UMBC and former Baltimore county worker shares her story, “I was a steward for the union so I was able to see both sides of the coin, so to speak. On the surface, the company acted as if they were acting in good faith, but they stalled their butts off for months. We couldn’t get a contract or settle on negotiations. Everyone just felt used and by the end of it, we sort of gave up.”
When asked about Temple’s current strike Kathryn says, “It’s unprecedented. That sort of fight is unprecedented at Temple. I’m glad that people are listening now.”
Unions and protests for fair wages are popping up across the country in companies and universities alike. Universities like Harvard have been the home of student led union Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), which recently protested for a fair wage. While the University of California also held strikes on and off campus.
Here in Maryland, there are multiple bills at play that would support and protect county workers and unions. These potential legislations include House Bill 65 and Senate Bill 352.
Policies like this are essential to strengthening unions and support for unions. However, work needs to be done on college campuses.
Sarah agrees, “The fight is now on college campuses. We work hard, on top of classes and everything else, we work extremely hard but unfortunately, we are not seeing the rewards. These students want livable wages and benefits. They are asking to be treated decently. I do not believe they are asking for anything unreasonable.”
Despite the tumultuous fight, negotiations are being seen throughout college campuses. Temple administration has reached a compromise with the student-led union there. According to recent reports, Temple University has tentatively agreed to retain free single health coverage for a graduate student worker. However, negotiations are still at play until all parties are in agreement.
If agreements are officially reached, it might be a step forward, but we can not write this as a victory for the war. In fact, there is still a lot of work to do on and around campus for our workers. Unionizing can be a way to provide space to effectively change the landscape and how workers are being treated on college campuses.
Shanika Freeman is a senior majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and Head Editor of Opinions.
Contact the author of this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.