Two Union Representatives Arrested for Informing Professors About Their Union

Screenshot of PSEA Members at HACC's Lancaster campus before getting arrested for trespassing on August 30, 2023

By Sean Kitchen

August 31, 2023

Harrisburg Area Community College had two union representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association arrested for trespassing on Wednesday. Their crime? Informing professors about their union rights. 

Two representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union, were arrested for trying to talk to union members at the Harrisburg Area Community College’s (HACC) Lancaster campus on Wednesday. 

A post from the Hawk Faculty United account on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing one of the representatives, Lauri Lebo Rakoff, being placed into handcuffs went viral Wednesday afternoon and grabbed the attention of members from Pennsylvania’s labor community. 

Rakoff and Adama Weber were both charged with a misdemeanor trespassing violation.

PSEA staff, working with the HACC [Education Association], set up a table at HACC Lancaster Campus to reach out to HACC faculty and encourage them to join our union. HACC faculty voted to unionize with PSEA in April 2022, and union activity is protected under state labor law,” said Chris Lilienthal, the assistant Director of Communications with PSEA.   

Lilinthal added, “We believe HACC management made a very bad decision to involve the police and limit protected activity in violation of state labor law.”

Video of the incident obtained by The Keystone shows Weber telling security that they were engaging in a protected action under Act 195, a public employees relations act, and that they have a right to be on campus to talk to HACC’s members. 

A follow up video shows a security official with a HACC Human Relations official on a cell phone and that security official relayed a message that the union members were to disperse. Following that, the two PSEA representatives were arrested.

Professors at HACC voted overwhelmingly to unionize in April 2022 and have been operating without a contract since the election. Prior to that, HACC was the last community college in Pennsylvania to form a union thanks in large part to Dr. John Sygielski’s, the President of HACC, anti-union sentiments. 

PA Spotlight reported that in 2020 professors at HACC began collecting signatures to have a union election, but they had to wait over a year for the election because the administration was caught inflating their faculty lists to make it appear that the union did not obtain enough signatures for the election.  

During this time, faculty members were faced with anti-union rhetoric from Sygielski who told faculty members that they were better off without the union. Then in 2011 when Sygielski was the President of Mt. Hood Community College, he threatened to permanently replace any professors who went on strike after the faculty held a strike authorization vote.   

In response to Wednesday’s incident, HACC’s Public Relation’s department released a two-page document claiming that the faculty union engaged in a publicity stunt ahead of the Labor Day weekend, which came at the expense of HACC’s students. The memo stated that the union representatives were not authorized to be on the Lancaster campus. 

“We have received reports that some students were traumatized by seeing armed law enforcement officers making arrests on their campus during the first week of fall classes…This publicity stunt has caused, for some of our students, irreparable harm and could result in some students deciding to withdraw from their HACC courses. This publicity stunt is deplorable and disgraceful.”

 

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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