Note: This article was published on the Raging Chicken Press as part of a mini-series on the Temple injunction of 1990 and the current APSCUF contract negotiations.
Following the approval of a strike authorization vote by APSCUF members at the 14 campuses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), many are reflecting on the last major strike by university faculty in Pennsylvania at Temple University in 1990.
That strike, which began on September 4th, 1990 at the start of the fall semester and lasted 29 days, concerned pay, benefits, and pensions for the university faculty and marked a defining moment in Temple history, as well as for Pennsylvania’s higher education systems.
The Temple strike was notable for many reasons, including its student support for the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP). Many of the students staged sit-ins and demonstrations and sported T-shirts with the slogan, “Peter, Peter, tuition eater” directed at then-President Peter Liacouras, who refused to budge on the contract negotiations with the university faculty.
What it is most remembered for, however, is the court injunction that forced faculty back to work. According to Art Hochner, president of Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), it took Temple over three weeks to file the motion in court after the strike began. The Common Peas judge imposed the injunction, which was upheld by the Commonwealth Court and the Supreme Court. The injunction, part of the Public Employees Relations Act, states that if a strike by public employees occurs and where all collective bargaining processes have been exhausted, if that strike creates a “clear and present danger or threat to the health, safety or welfare of the public,” then in such cases the public employer can initiate an action seeking an injunction with the court of common pleas. Such an injunction is supposed to have a high bar, leaving many to question whether it should have been used in this situation. Hochner said that the judges, “Seemed not to understand that college is not mandatory, as basic education is, and that college students…are not children who need care…We struck on the first day of the semester, right after Labor Day that year, so students were not captives and could drop out.” And in fact, many students did drop out – about 3,500 of them.
Following the injunction, Temple faculty returned to work but continued with contract negotiations until late January of the following year. Susan Wells, a Professor of English at Temple, said that the negotiations were bitter. “The English department was very active, almost entirely members of the union. We met as a department every week and discussed what to do…We collected money and gave it out to people who were really hit hard financially by the strike.”
Wells said that after the injunction, classes were monitored to make sure that faculty were meeting them. They also followed revised schedules to make up class time through Christmas Eve and returning to classes shortly after the holiday and teaching through the remainder of the break. Wells continued, “Although I really, really hope that I will never be on strike again, I don’t at all regret either strike. Nothing else, I am convinced, would have persuaded the Temple administration that they really did have to bargain with the union. To this day, administrators get very nervous at contract time.”
Now that APSCUF faculty have approved their strike authorization vote this past Friday, many are wondering whether or not history could repeat itself. Over 86% of the APSCUF membership cast ballots for the strike authorization, which passed with 95% support. The union has been negotiating for a fair contract for almost two years and has been without a contract for over 16 months as issues such as pay for part-time temporary faculty members, distance education compensation, and health care for active members and retirees remain on the table. Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF stated, “The overwhelming support for our negotiations committee and our negotiations team sends a strong message to the State System. Our members are united for a fair contract that benefits all faculty and students by maintaining quality education.” Hicks said that APSCUF will continue to work to settle a fair contract and will continue to try to reach an agreement with PASSHE negotiators. “A strike is truly a last resort,” he added.