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March 14, 2023

Temple graduate student union votes to approve contract, officially ending strike

The four-year agreement includes pay raises, improved dependent health care and working conditions; it goes into effect immediately

Education Labor
Temple ratify contract Provided Image/Laurie Robins

Temple graduate students voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with the university, officially ending a six-week strike. The new contract includes increased wages and more affordable dependent healthcare.

After 42 days of picketing and a rejected contract proposal, striking Temple graduate students voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with the university. 

The Temple University Graduate Students Association announced the ratified contract agreement Monday afternoon, with 98% approval from union members, a press release said.

Under the new contract, the minimum pay for graduate student workers will increase from its current base of roughly $20,000 to $24,000 immediately and improve to $27,000 by 2026, Inside Higher Ed reported

In addition, graduate students who work as a teacher or research assistants will receive a one-time $500 payment. The agreement also includes more affordable dependent health care, 21 days for parental leave, four days of bereavement leave and protections from grueling schedules, discrimination and harassment, the union said.

The contract will go into effect immediately and lasts until 2026. 

"This contract is an important win for graduate workers. It secures necessary wins on pay, leave, and improved working conditions. It also sends a message that essential employees at Universities should be compensated as such, including dignity for international workers and workers with families," TUGSA negotiation team member Tantrik Mukerji said. "This contract was won through the hard work of our collective effort and strengthens TUGSA for future negotiations."

The agreement comes after negotiations between Temple and TUGSA intensified last week as the March 9 deadline loomed for all striking students to pay their tuition. 

On Thursday evening, TUGSA and the university agreed to a tentative deal.

Temple President Jason Wingard said he was pleased that an agreement was reached.

"Over the past six weeks, Temple demonstrated remarkable resilience," he said in an emailed statement. "Perseverance conquers, and today's agreement is evidence of our collective willingness to unite and advance."

TUGSA began striking on Jan. 31 after failed negotiations with Temple. The union had been working without a contract for a year and was fighting to increase wages from $19,500 a year to $32,800, improve health benefits for dependents and improve working conditions. 

After nearly a month of picketing and fighting what the union called "union-busting tactics," an agreement was reached on Feb. 17. However, 83% of voting members in the union voted against the contract, which included pay raises of 10% in the first academic year, 5% in the second, 2.5% in the third and 2.25% in the fourth year.

TUGSA members felt that that deal was not enough of an improvement, so the strike continued.

Last Thursday's deal was significantly better, in the union's estimation. "We are happy that Temple has finally recognized the value of its graduate employees and that both teams could come to this agreement," TUGSA's lead negotiator Matt Ford said.

The next step is for the part-time graduate student employees to resume work, whether teaching or research projects. There is no timetable for when that will begin. 

Rebuilding trust with the administration is also a work in progress for union members who had their health insurance cut and received bills to pay their tuition for the spring semester. The university has reinstated tuition remission and health care benefits for graduate student employees. Temple will also pay 25% of health care for graduate students’ dependents, the Inquirer reported

"The reversal of these retaliatory measures is a victory for graduate worker unions everywhere," TUGSA members said. "The public outcry and harsh criticism of Temple administration's decision to cut these benefits sent a resounding message that union-busting tactics that jeopardize the well-being of workers will not be tolerated."

TUGSA represents roughly 750 part-time teaching assistants and research assistants.

There has been a recent uptick in graduate students fighting for increased pay. In December, the University of Pennsylvania increased the minimum Ph.D. stipend from $30,547 to $38,000.