Harrisburg area community college professors rally for a fair contract

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Aaron Chapin speaking at a rally supporting Harrisburg Area Community College professors on the Pennsylvania Capitol Steps on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

October 12, 2023

Harrisburg Area Community College professors rallied on the capitol steps for union rights on Wednesday. This comes a little over a month after two union representatives were arrested on HACC’s Lancaster campus for informing members about their union rights.

Dozens of professors from Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) and their supporters rallied on the steps of the Pennsylvania capitol on Wednesday as part of their fight for a fair union contract. 

HACC Education Association, the union representing the professors that is part of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), successfully unionized HACC’s Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York campuses 17 months ago, but professors at the community college have been working without a contract since. 

“The more than 250 professors that belong to HACC Education Association are seeking fairness and respect,” said Arron Chapin, President of the PSEA. “What they’re getting from HACC’s administration are threats and bullying tactics. We’re not going to stand for it.”

HACC was one of the last remaining community colleges in Pennsylvania to officially unionize after a 40-plus year effort to organize the school’s faculty. 

Tensions between the union and HACC’s administration boiled over before Labor Day when two representatives working for the PSEA were arrested for trespassing because the school administration did not want the union to inform faculty members of their union rights.  

@keystonenewsroom

Two Pennsylvania State Education Association representatives were arrested at Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lancaster Campus on Wednesday. Their crime? Informing professors of their union rights. This is just the latest anti-union effort by HACC’s administration. The administration was caught inflating their number of employees in 2020 to try and stop the union from collecting signatures to have an election. Furthermore, during the signature collecting process, Dr. John Sygielski, the President of HACC, told faculty members they were better off without the union. Faculty members voted overwhelmingly to form the union in 2022 and have been working over a year without a contract. ✏️ : Sean Kitchen #LaborDay #Union #OneUnion #1u #HotUnionSummer #Pennsylvania #Lancaster #Harrisburg #717 #CentralPA #PA

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At the time of the arrests, HACC administration claimed that the union representing the faculty members was an outside entity or interest group that pulled a publicity stunt and did not have the right to be on campus. 

The union claims that they are not an outside entity because they represent their members who are professors at the school. 

“This is our membership table that we put up at the Lancaster campus on August 30th,” said HACC EA President Kathy Sicher, while pointing to a benign folding table with the union’s banner on it. 

“This is the dangerous table that cause HACC management to call the police, to threaten our faculty with arrest and to arrest our PSEA representatives for trespassing,” Sicher added. “This behavior is called union busting.”

Three mid-state legislators—State Reps. David Madsen (D-Dauphin), Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster) and Justin Fleming (D-Dauphin)—spoke at Wednesday’s rally supporting the college professors.

“To be on the wrong side of labor is a treacherous mistake for any employer,” said Madsen. “I would say, there is a long history of going back and using law enforcement against people unionizing. It was a tactic used by barrons a hundred years ago.” 

Madsen expressed his displeasure with HACC’s administration and their president, Dr. John Sygielski, who has a history of thwarting union efforts at previous positions. Madsen told the crowd that the school informed him they would review their policies to make sure that no further arrests of union organizers would occur and that they would operate in good faith and negotiate a contract with the faculty members. 

Following the rally, Sicher explained how little progress has been made in terms of the administration following through on its promises. 

“Representative Dave Madsen told me that’s what Dr. [Sygielski] said, but even the faculty senate cabinet and faculty organization presented the Board of Trustees and Dr. [Sygielski] with a resolution that we have the right to have an information table and without the threat of arrests, and we barely got three sentences back from Dr. [Sygielski],” Sicher said in an interview. 

“There has been no acknowledgement or reversal of their decision to threaten the faculty with arrests and then they have not dropped the charges.”

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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