Protests at Temple Call on University to Hire Minority Labor
Temple University is building a new 24-floor residential hall for students at the corner of Broad and Cecil B. Moore. It’s one of many new construction projects going up in North Philly to expand the Philadelphia university. And every Monday for the past month, the Fair Hiring Coalition, a group of union and non-union labor workers and supporters have taken to that block to protest the university. They claim the university has hired almost 100 percent white male workers in skilled positions, and many are from outside the city.
“Temple, along with its contractors and subcontractors, is not only in violation of federal obligations (Executive Order 11246) to actively hire minorities in order to reflect the demographics of the local neighborhood,” reads a flier being handed out by the group, “but is also clearly not respecting its own promises to hire local residents.”
Temple is legally obligated to hire minorities in at least 35 percent of their workforce, as well as local laborers. But many protesters, and some workers currently employed by the university, say Temple hasn’t lived up to those obligations.
The group was being led in part by Margarita Padin, a Latina union carpenter. “Temple University, right now has $400 million of current construction projects and more planned,” she told PW, but their obligation to hire a 35 percent minority workforce “means nothing. Because it’s a number as a whole, and it can be reached by hiring laborers who are usually African American and the least skilled and the least paid.”
Other members of the protest had similar complaints.
“I don’t think Temple’s done a good job, being the owner of the site and hiring a general contractor for people of the community,” says John Graves, a union operating engineer. “We’re just trying to get a piece of the pie, not trying to take the pie away.”
Graves says the point of the protests is not to take jobs away from anybody. “We’re just saying, when you start these jobs, include the people from the neighborhood,” he says.
A representative from the AFSCME and Occupy Philadelphia were on hand as well. In total, about 20 activists and union members were handing out leaflets and picketing at the site. Padin said they’ve handed out hundreds of fliers over the past month. Temple is on Spring Break this week, but students have joined the protest in past weeks, too. Paul Prescod, a Temple student and member of the TU Student Labor Action Project, says his school should just do “what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The protesters have not heard from Temple’s Administration, [UPDATE: Despite claims, protesters met with TU Administration on February 14 and are scheduled to meet again later this month] but a meeting has been set up with City Council President Darrell Clarke.
One union iron worker who is currently working on the building at Broad and Cecil B. Moore, who went by the name Lump, said he supports the efforts below. Things, he said, have become harder for union members, especially over the last six years.
“We don’t want handouts,” he said, “we just want the opportunity to work.”
He also called what’s happening at Temple part of a larger pattern. “Union means like this [he makes a fist]. How can you make a fist like this? [he opens his palm] When you’re a union worker, you now have to go against guys that are in the union. You have to go against guys that are non-union on all fronts and factions to get a job. It don’t make any sense,” he says. “And I’m in a union. I’ve been in a union for 31 years. You gotta demonstrate. If I sit at home and watch Jerry Springer or Sports Center, I’m not going to get a job.”
He said he plans on joining the demonstration if and when he, too, gets laid off from the project.