In mid-March Alex, TUGSA’s co-director of organization, and I attended the AFT/NEA 2015 Higher Education Conference. As we exist within the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as local 6290, the AFT also sponsors and supports other graduate student unions throughout the country. While many are in their own unions, a number of graduate students end up in the larger unions that comprise of their entire teaching structure, most often called a wall-to-wall union as they encompass everyone eligible. Our neighbor in New Jersey, Rutgers, exists as such a union where everyone is under one local.
Similar to academic conferences there are keynote speakers, workshops and presentations, and a lot of focused discussions occur across very large and very round tables during meals. The atmosphere for the first two days was positive with many of the keynote talks focused on the right-to-work movement sweeping across states. This is troublesome because it is largely seen as the first step for legislatures to weaken unions. Many administrations actively seek to dissuade unions from being formed on their campus already, something seen with Temple’s adjuncts, and right-to-work legislation plays a role in discouraging eligible members from joining their union.
This conversation is critical to have not only at the conference, but also amongst ourselves. Many of us may hope to become involved in higher education, and that career path is structured around unions. Private colleges are beginning to discuss unionizing on both a graduate and professorial level after recent rulings by the National Labor Review Board. No one wants to be a voiceless worker, but in the case of adjuncts and others there is a critical need to openly gather to discuss how we want to address the road ahead as a union.
The conference’s message showed the importance of open communication within departments and between departments of graduate student unions. Many of us are already separated by different majors and different buildings, but that doesn’t make our concerns different. Nearly everyone wants an improvement to their TA contract, but agreeing on what issues are most pressing is difficult. Presently a few vocal departments make up the Steward’s Council, but they are just enough to lead TUGSA. These stalwarts ensure our union survives, but we’re going to need your eyes and your ears in future Steward’s Council meetings to make progress happen.
The development of the adjunct unionization effort will surely also provide us with leverage to increase our benefits in three years. What benefits those are will depend on the conversations we have this coming academic year. Please be a part of those conversations so we can improve our lives as graduate students and the quality of Temple’s undergraduate education. TUGSA is unique positioned to be a strong leader of Temple’s student body and a strong leader in the Philadelphia community at large. We can achieve much, but it will be worth little without you by our sides.
College of Engineering