The Lead

Two union reps arrested in incident at Harrisburg Area Community College

By: - September 1, 2023 4:03 pm

Harrisburg Area Community College

Two members of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) were arrested during an incident at Harrisburg Area Community College’s Lancaster campus this week, in what the college calls a “publicity stunt” and the faculty union says was simply an attempt to provide information to other faculty.

Kathy Sicher, president of Harrisburg Area Community College Educators Association (HACCEA), told the Capital-Star her group set up an table at HACC’s Lancaster campus on Wednesday, with pamphlets and other information about the union. 

PSEA representatives were there to provide support for the union faculty members, who Sicher says had every right to be there. She had sought permission to set up a table but says HACC did not reply to her requests. 

“We have every right to be there, we are the faculty and we are part of this school,” she said. “This is our right to free speech. We weren’t disrupting anything.”

Sicher said HACC staff called the East Lampeter Police department, who arrested the two PSEA officials for trespassing. LancasterOnline identified the two PSEA employees who were arrested as Lauri Lebo Rakoff and Adam Weber.

In an unsigned statement to the Capital-Star, HACC said the incident was conducted by PSEA “with specific intent to violate the policy and get arrested.” 

The college has a policy against on-campus solicitations by external groups, according to the statement. HACC claims it received a request from PSEA to set up tables on multiple dates “for the special interest purpose of promoting the union.” 

But PSEA spokesperson Chris Lilienthal said the organization was working with HACCEA. “PSEA staff, working with the HACCEA, set up a table at the HACC Lancaster Campus to reach out to faculty and encourage them to join our union,” Lilienthal said in a statement. “HACC faculty voted to unionize with PSEA in April 2022, and union activity is protected under state labor law. We believe HACC management made a very bad decision to involve the police and limit protected activity in violation of state labor law.”

HACC called the incident “unfortunate” and that it did “not reflect HACC’s core values,” adding that it had “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.” 

Sicher called the HACC statement “gaslighting,” and said the sequence of events as described in its statement was false. She said she was the one who contacted the college about having a table at Lancaster, and added that HACCEA had a similar informational table set up at the college’s York campus on Aug. 22, and there were no problems then. 

“They were the ones who called the East Lampeter police on their own faculty,” Sicher added. Both have since been released.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board declined to comment on whether HACC may have violated any rules in its handling of the incident, or whether it was investigating. 

Sicher said the HACCEA is in the middle of negotiating its first contract with the college, and that she was not sure what steps the organization would take next, but was undaunted. “We had fabulous turnout in York, with a lot of great energy,” she said. “I think [the administration] found that threatening.”

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications.