Growing concern over the working conditions of graduate students led to the formation of the Temple Graduate Students’ Association in 1997. Despite teaching the same courses as full-time professors, graduate student employees did not receive the benefits that professors, or other University staff, received: graduate students received a salary of about $11,000, plus a $400 subsidy for health insurance, with no cost of living adjustment, and no grievance procedure. Further spurring concern, TA lines were being cut with no warning or explanation.
Over the next two years, 690 graduate students signed cards expressing their desire for a union to represent their interests. On February 12, 1999, TUGSA representatives took these cards and filed a request for a union election with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
Although hearings are usually scheduled within weeks of such requests, the PLRB did not schedule a hearing until August 10. That date was further postponed when lawyers for Temple administration asked for an extension on the grounds that they needed to research facts and make their case more concise.
In the hearings, TUGSA argued that graduate students who are employed by the University should be considered employees as well as students and therefore entitled to the same rights and benefits as other employees, including union representation if the majority of employees desire a union. Temple administration argued that graduate students who work for the University are primarily students and should therefore not be categorized as employees.
Over a year later, in October 2000, the Labor Board finally ruled that graduate students who work at Temple are in fact employees and therefore can unionize. In March 2001, Temple graduate student employees voted 290 to 16 in favor of union representation. Temple administration promptly filed a legal challenge, again arguing that employed graduate students are not employees, but eventually agreed to accept the PLRB’s decision.