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Temple University holding first ‘open negotiations’ with faculty: ‘This was us watching the sausage being made'

Faculty contract negotiations at Temple University have gone on largely behind closed doors, with teams for both sides exchanging proposals over many sessions. All that changed Thursday when the union decided to open up the room to any member that wanted to come.Twenty-one did.

Members of Temple's faculty union at Thursday's first "open" bargaining session.
Members of Temple's faculty union at Thursday's first "open" bargaining session.Read moreTemple Association of University Professionals

Negotiating a labor contract is typically a private affair, with teams from both sides huddling in a room and exchanging proposals.

But all that changed at Temple University on Thursday when the faculty union invited any member who wanted to come in and watch.

Twenty-one showed up.

It was the first bargaining session for a new contract, and union leaders expect interest to build as talks progress.

“Open bargaining promotes transparency and accountability and it gives each of our members a chance to show their solidarity for the work that TAUP [Temple Association of University Professionals] is doing to improve salaries, benefits and working conditions for faculty, librarians and academic professionals,” the union wrote in announcing the new practice to members last week.

“Your presence gives the table team increased power at the table as they work toward achieving common goals and individual priorities.”

Open negotiations are not common in the collective bargaining world, but also not unprecedented. Temple University Hospital’s nurses’ union and several other local nursing and faculty groups have used it in recent years.

Proponents say the process can build support and understanding among members and educate workers on management’s stance, especially at a time when President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to weaken unions.

“Smart unions are slowly realizing this whole open-negotiations thing may help skeptical workers or skeptical members realize that unions are the force for good in the collective bargaining process,” said Jane McAlevey, a national labor scholar and author, who helped the nurses’ union at Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center when they were using open negotiations.

But others with negotiating experience say the process can stall talks because people become unwilling to float new ideas or agree to compromises, with so many people watching. Management rarely favors it.

Asked about open negotiations, Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said: “Our focus, as always, is on getting a fair contract that will keep Temple’s education affordable and accessible to our students.”

Steve Newman, president of the 2,500-member union, said the administration was concerned, fearing sensitive information could leak, but it is the union’s prerogative to bring others in the room. Union leaders, he said, make it clear to member spectators that what’s said at the table should not be shared on social media and that no disruption is allowed.

"It’s not a free-for-all,” Newman said. “People check in. We spent a half-hour before we go in the room, going over the rules. There are very clear rules about who speaks and who doesn’t.”

Audience members are even instructed not to react to things that are said at the table. They are told to have a “poker face,” said Jennie Shanker, vice president of the union.

They are allowed to engage with the negotiating team during breaks. They can even pass notes up during talks, though none did at the first session, Shanker said.

“It’s kind of like having a focus group,” she said. “We’re going to gain from the knowledge of our members.”

Groups outside of union members may be brought in at some point, too, Shanker said.

“There are groups who have said: ‘We want to support you. Let us know when we would show up,’ ” she said, declining to name them.

How the process will play out at Temple remains to be seen. The next session is set for May 3. The administration and faculty are trying to negotiate an early settlement, with a target of June 30. Wages, benefits, job stability, child care, and tuition benefits are among the issues being discussed, according to the union. The current contract expires Oct. 15.

Marsha Weinraub, a psychology professor who has worked at Temple 43 years, was one of the spectators, and she plans to attend as many sessions as she can.

“This was us watching the sausage being made, and it was fascinating,” she said. “Both sides were very eager, very friendly, and very cordial. Both sides are working for Temple University. Both sides are eager to get a contract before the summer starts. There is goodwill on both sides.”