The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), the AFT-affiliated union that has represented 1300 faculty and library staff at Temple University for some 35 years, including through two major strikes, is in a bitter struggle for a new contract with the administration at Temple University, a large public-funded university located in Philadelphia.
For only the second time in the TAUP's history, the university administration has turned to an outside negotiator from the pricey and politically well-connected anti-labor law firm Ballard Spahr, which advertises its proficiency at keeping workplaces "union-free."
(To hear the story of Temple, TAUP and Ballard Spahr in song, performed by yours truly, click here (with thanks to Woody Guthrie)
Ballard Spahr was recently the subject of critical stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which noted that the firm, whose ranks included Philadelphia's current governor, Ed Rendell (supposedly a “friend of labor”), and that it has been hired, at high rates, by the City of Philadelphia, the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to handle their labor negotiations. Ballard Spahr was also hired by Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). This even though all those organizations had their own salaried lawyers on staff. The same is true of Temple University, which normally has had its own lawyers and its administration handle negotiations with the union.
Union activists (who have called on Temple alumni to withhold contributions to Temple and to demand that it bargain in good faith with its staff) and critics of the practice of hiring Ballard Spahr note that at a time of tight budgets, the law firm's exhorbitant billings are vaccuuming up scarce funds that could be better spent helping to fund important activities. Temple University, for example, which is likely handing over more than $1 million to Ballard Spahr for its negotiating work this year, has been claiming the school lacks funds for even modest raises for TAUP, and has been taking back already awarded research grants to faculty, claiming reduced funds from the state.
Another criticism is that having a law firm billing the university, SEPTA or the city for its negotiating work creates a financial incentive for dragging out negotiations.
The Temple faculty, which began negotiations early last summer, has been working without a contract since Oct. 15. The University has also been stonewalling on negotiations with its staff union, AFSCME, whose workers have been without a contract now at Temple for more than a year.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.