Two staff members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association were arrested Wednesday and charged with trespassing on Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lancaster campus.
The association’s spokesperson said the arrests of the staff members, who had helped set up a table displaying information about the college’s faculty union, HACC Education Association, were a violation of state labor law. The college called the union’s action a “publicity stunt” that was “orchestrated so that they would be arrested.”
The college’s faculty union, which is represented by PSEA, formed in April 2022 and represents almost 900 faculty members. It started contract negotiations with the college in January but has yet to reach an agreement.
Campus security officials asked the union members to leave soon after they set up the table. Everyone left but the two people arrested.
A video of the incident posted on the website of CBS 21 News, a local television station, shows Adam Kenneth Weber, one of the PSEA staff members arrested, telling a campus security official, “We are the exclusive representative for HACCEA. We have a right to be here to reach out to our members, to talk to our members, to be on campus.”
Weber said enforcement of the order to leave would violate “our right as members of the union to talk about our union and express our opinions about the union.” He and Lauri Ann Rakoff, another representative from PSEA, refused to leave. When police arrived, they again asked Rakoff and Weber to leave.
“Both acknowledged that they had been asked to leave by HACC security but were refusing to do so, stating that they represented faculty members of the college,” according to an incident report published on the East Lampeter Township Police Department’s website. Police told Weber and Rakoff “that they would be arrested for Defiant Trespassing if they did not leave the property and again, they refused to leave.”
The pair were later arrested without incident, the police report said. They were released about 30 minutes later, according to Chris Lilienthal, assistant director of communications for PSEA.
“We believe HACC management made a very bad decision to involve police to attempt to limit protected activity in violation of state labor law,” Lilienthal said. “Our attorneys are examining legal options, but we haven’t made any formal decisions yet.”
Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Relations Act of 1970 “establishes the rights of public employees to organize and bargain collectively through selected representatives.”
‘Publicity Stunt’ or ‘Scared Management’ ?
But according to an emailed statement from the college, the arrests were a “deplorable and disgraceful” publicity stunt.
According to the college’s statement, it received a request from PSEA members last week to set up information tables on campus “for the special interest of promoting the union.” On Monday, the college informed PSEA that they, “like all other external entities, are not allowed to promote their special interests on any HACC campus,” citing a campus policy that says “external entities may not utilize college facilities for the purpose of promoting or advancing political, religious or other special interests.”
Nonetheless, the PSEA employees came to the Lancaster campus Wednesday to help manage the faculty union’s informational table.
When campus security asked them to leave, “One of the PSEA representatives allegedly said that they understood that their request was denied, however they would continue to set up as they believed they had a legal right to do so,” the college’s statement said. “When informed the police would be called, they said if they needed to be arrested then that is what would happen. This unauthorized campus visit was orchestrated so that they would be arrested.”
The faculty union spoke out against the incident yesterday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
"We voted overwhelmingly to unionize in April 2022. Since then, HACC has shown little good faith in negotiating. Not only do they want to keep us from the table; they want to prevent us from even having one to reach out and support our faculty,” the post said. “The stalling and intimidation tactics have to stop.”
Kathy Sicher, president of the college’s faculty union, said she “was completely disheartened” and “couldn’t believe it” after learning about the arrests.
That’s because last week the faculty union, with the help of PSEA representatives, set up an informational table at the York campus with no problems. They planned to set up outreach events at all five HACC campuses throughout the fall semester, but those plans are on hold after Wednesday’s arrests.
“I don’t know if enthusiasm for” the York event “scared management,” Sicher said, noting that the union is in the process of negotiating for higher wages and changes to working conditions. “The faculty overwhelmingly voted to unionize, and HACC has not been happy with that. We’re attempting to bargain our first contract with them. It’s been slow.”
Faculty at HACC unionized amid a growing organized labor movement of students and workers at higher education institutions across the country. Already this year, faculty members in Vermont, New Jersey and Illinois have gone on strike. And days before classes began this semester, the University of Michigan reached a tentative deal with a union of graduate student instructors and staff assistants.