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TUGSA strike.
TUGSA's first rally on Oct. 11th. Photo credit: Kianni Figuereo

What you need to know about Temple’s graduate workers strike

TUGSA has received tons of support from local and nationwide politicians this week.

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Since January 2022 Temple University Graduate Student’s Association (TUGSA) has been negotiating with the university administration for improvements in healthcare, wages and overall working conditions. No agreements have been reached, and things just escalated in the past week after TUGSA called a strike. 

On January 31, a rally was held during the Board of Trustees meeting outside of Charles Library on Temple’s campus. The movement has received the support of many local and national leaders — including Philadelphia mayor candidate Helen Gym and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders

This week, the novel got a new chapter when Temple cut tuition aid and healthcare coverage for graduate workers who have been on strike. The university has been receiving intense online outrage after TUGSA members shared the news on social media. Graduate workers posted on Twitter the email the university sent announcing their tuition remission had been removed for the semester, and that graduates have to pay full balance by March 9. 

“We are very disappointed, although not surprised, given the kind of response we have got from the university throughout the year,” said Manasa Gopakumar, Contract Negotiations Member at TUGSA. 

She added by saying that graduate workers are on strike precisely because they don’t make enough to afford to live in the city and they simply cannot pay full tuition in such a short period of time. 

Regarding healthcare coverage cancellation, Gopakumar said many TUGSA members weren’t informed about the cut — and found out about it when they were trying to get their prescribed medications. The institution is legally required to withhold pay from graduate workers who have been striking, but it has no obligation to withhold benefits, she added.

“It is quite unprecedented, extremely harsh and a completely disproportionate response for what graduate workers are demanding,” Gopakumar added. 

TUGSA has reached out to its lawyers to see what legal channels they have to push back on this decision. 

Support from the community 

The strike has received an overwhelming amount of support from students, faculty members, department chairs, local unions, community leaders, city council members and more. 

The tweets had many views, likes and sharings — reaching a broader audience that included Senators John Fetterman and Nikil Saval, as well as Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. 

Al Día spoke with mayoral candidate Gym, who has been supporting TUGSA since their first rally, in October 2022. For her, the eyes of the nation are in Philadelphia and Temple University right now. What's happening at the institution isn’t just a local issue, and it’s speaking to the needs of not only graduate workers, but all those who work for the university. 

“Last week was a strong showing from local, state and national leaders that there’s an unified approach supporting collective bargaining and the process to honor it,” Gym said. “My hope is that Temple sees this as an opportunity to demonstrate its status as a true institution for the city of Philadelphia.” 

Gym completed saying she is disappointed that Temple took an aggressive stance, and hopes the university works with all its different unions. 

As for Mary Isaacson, Pennsylvania State Representative, Temple needs to negotiate in good faith to make sure the students and faculty that are working on their behalf are being compensated appropriately — especially considering the post-pandemic cost of living scenario in Philadelphia.  

“I think that Temple’s response is Vanilla, and they are not taking into consideration the economy in which we are leaving now,” she said.  

University response

The Temple administration posted an update on Monday regarding the TUGSA strike. Al Día reached out for a follow up, and the institution shared the following statement: 

“As the university has advised the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association and its members on multiple occasions, graduate students who choose to participate in the strike and not perform the work for which the university employs them will no longer receive compensation and their work-related benefits while they are on strike. More than 80% of TUGSA members continue to work and receive compensation, including tuition remission. 

In accordance with Pennsylvania law, those TUGSA members who have chosen not to work and are on strike are no longer entitled to their compensation and work-related benefits, which include tuition remission. Because striking workers are not entitled to tuition remission, they have been notified of their obligation to make arrangements to pay their tuition, consistent with how the university treats other students who have unpaid tuition obligations.”

According to Temple, only 17% of TUGSA members are striking and meetings are ongoing to resolve this contract. 

Gopakumar said TUGSA doesn’t know the exact number of graduate workers who are on strike, but that it is bigger than what Temple claims it to be. “They are severely underestimating the number of graduate workers who are on strike right now,” she added. 

TUGSA organized a press conference today to address Temple’s cuts. Gopakumar said they are planning for a new round of negotiations.   

“Temple has been receiving a lot of negative attention and we hope that this forces them to make the right decision, to roll back the cuts in tuition and healthcare coverage,” Gopakumar said. “We hope they understand that responding in such a harsh way isn’t going to stop graduate workers.”

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