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March 10, 2023

Temple grad students on strike reach another tentative contract with university

TUGSA members rejected a previous deal in February. Union leaders said the new one includes a significant pay bump and subsidized dependent health care

Education Labor
Temple University Strike Agreement Provided Image/Laurie Robins

Contract negotiators for the Temple University Graduate Students Association have reached another tentative agreement with university officials. If ratified by members, it would end a six-week strike.

The union representing Temple University's striking graduate students reached a new tentative contract agreement with the university after its members voted overwhelmingly to reject a previous deal in February. 

The Temple University Graduate Students Association, which represents about 750 part-time teaching assistants and research assistants, said Thursday night that its contract negotiators believe the agreement addresses each of the union's core demands. If approved by members, it will end the strike that has been ongoing since Jan. 31.

The deal includes a "significant" initial pay bump and guaranteed raises in subsequent years, the union said. The agreement also removes the pay-tier system, which pays teaching assistants and research assistants differently based on their academic disciplines, the union said. 

The new contract agreement, if approved, would provide a partial subsidy for dependent health care, a first in TUGSA's 20-year history, according to the union. It also includes increases to parental and bereavement leave policies and international travel. 

Updated language in the tentative deal allows the union to better protect its members from "overwork, discrimination, and harassment," the union said. The union's management unanimously endorsed the deal for ratification, saying it meets each of the major demands presented by the union's members. 

"After six weeks of striking, the strength of our members combined with the support from our political, community and union allies pushed Temple to finally engage with our core demands," Matt Ford, TUGSA's lead negotiator, said in a press release. "We are happy that Temple has finally recognized the value of its graduate employees and that both teams could come to this agreement."

More specifics of the agreement will be revealed over the next few days, the union said. 

The new deal cannot be finalized until TUGSA's members vote to ratify it. If the tentative agreement is rejected again, TUGSA will return to the negotiating table and the strike will continue. 

"We are ready to see our graduate students get back to doing what they do best, which is teaching and mentoring our students while also conducting innovative, industry-leading research," said Deirdre Hopkins, senior director of communications at Temple University. "TUGSA will present the agreement to its membership for ratification today, and we are optimistic that it will be accepted." 

Last month, 83% of TUGSA's 400 striking members voted to reject the previous tentative agreement, reached after negotiations ended Feb. 17. The four-year deal, as described by the university, included wage increases in every year of the contract in addition to a one-time payment of $1,000. It provided continued health care coverage for teaching assistants and research assistants, but did not include subsidized care for dependents. 

Earlier this week, Temple University officials told the Inquirer that it would reinstate the tuition remission and current health care coverage that it cut last month for striking graduate students. That move that was met with harsh criticism by union members, community leaders and political officials. 

The contract that expired last year paid Temple's graduate students an average of $19,500 over nine months. Benefits included free tuition and health care. The union had been seeking a 50% increase in pay at the start of negotiations; the previously rejected agreement would have increased the average salary to $23,500 by the end of the agreement.