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February 11, 2023

Temple grad students will continue picketing despite 'union-busting tactics'

The teacher and research assistants on strike received a bill to pay spring tuition in full by March 9

Education Labor
Temple Strikers lose tuition remission PROVIDED IMAGE/LAURIE ROBINS/for PhillyVoice

As members of The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association union continue to strike for increased pay and more benefits, the school has cut tuition remission for picketing members. The striking grad students must pay the full spring semester by March 9.

Graduate students at Temple continued to picket on the school's North Philadelphia campus for a second straight week as they petition for a new contract that includes higher wages and better benefits.

Members of the Temple University Graduate Students' Association union participating in the strike lost their tuition remission as negotiations remain at a standstill with the school.

One of the TUGSA members shared an email from the university that detailed that full spring semester tuition is due by March 9. 

"We know there is concern that TUGSA members who are not performing their duties have lost their benefits," Temple spokesperson Stephen Orbanek said. "However, it is important to remember that in accordance with Pennsylvania law, those TUGSA members who have chosen not to work and are on strike are no longer entitled to compensation and work-related benefits, including tuition remission. Without those benefits, they will be treated the same as every other enrolled student."

Temple reportedly sent striking grad students two written notices that they would lose their benefits if they did not return to work. Any student that returns to their jobs will receive their benefits in full; they can even continue to voice concerns and stand on the picket lines as long as they do their jobs Orbanek said.

Orbanek added that the school is willing to continue negotiations and hopes to work with TUGSA toward a beneficial solution for all parties.

"Temple came to negotiations with only one proposal: to increase wages," the statement continues. "Temple has asked for no concessions. In the year since negotiations started, we've made salary proposals aligned with those accepted by other unions and with increases for full-time employees. We also offered increased leave in response to the union's proposals. However, a year after their contract expired, TUGSA is still seeking 50% increases and free healthcare for all dependents."

On Jan. 31, Temple graduate students that work part-time as teaching assistants and research assistants began to strike after months of anticipation and a November vote to authorize a strike if no deal was met.

A contract that expired last year for graduate student workers paid them an average of $19,500 over nine months and benefits, including free tuition and health care.

The university is currently offering a 3% increase in pay, which would become $22,500 by 2026. Temple also said it is willing to offer one-time payments of $250 or $500 and add more parental and bereavement days.

Bethany Kosmicki, a past president of TUGSA, said that members of the union felt they had no choice but to strike following the university's stance that there needed to be significant cuts made to the proposed contract demands. 

Although Temple claims that around 550 TUGSA members continue to work and receive full pay, health benefits, and tuition remission, which equates to around 80% of the union, Matt Ford, a negotiator for the union, said that over 300 members are participating in the strike the Inquirer reported.

While benefits were cut, the strike will continue. Kosmicki has previously stated that the union will picket indefinitely until a fair deal is reached. 

"I was very, very disappointed to see that Temple is continuing these union-busting tactics rather than sitting down and negotiating for a contract with us," she said via NPR.