December 5, 2023

Diving Overview:

  • Temple University, a public institution in Philadelphia, has withdrawn tuition waiver benefits for its graduate students who are currently on strike. All striking graduate students must pay tuition in full by March 9 or face a $100 late fee and a financial freeze on their student accounts that will prevent them from registering for future classes, according to an email from the university.
  • Temple also disabled the striking students’ health insurance plansaccording to the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association, the union representing teaching assistants, research assistants and graduate assistants.
  • TUGSA, which represents 750 graduate staff, went on indefinite strike on January 31 after more than a year of deadlocked negotiations with the university. salary, healthcare and parental leave. It is the first time in the group’s 26-year history that it has gone on strike.

Diving Statistics:

The strike and subsequent fallout at Temple comes at a time when universities across the country are seeing increased unionization and strikes, particularly among alumni.

In early 2022, alumni at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fordham University in New York voted to form unions, and those at Indiana University continued. strike for four weeks. ANDIn December, the University of California system saw roughly 48,000 academic workers go on strike the largest strike in US higher education history.

While student worker strikes are no longer rare, the severity of Temple’s response is extraordinary.

Employers threatening to cut benefits during a strike aren’t unusual — but according to Bethany Kosmicki, past president of TUGSA, they follow through.

Temple began deactivating strikers’ health insurance plans last week without notifying them.

“Our members found out at the pharmacy and at the doctor’s office that they no longer had insurance,” Kosmicki said at a press conference Thursday. “We believe and oppose the way Temple decided to cut off our benefits in retaliation for us participating in our right to strike.”

Temple stood by its decision to take advantage of striking students.

“In accordance with Pennsylvania law, those TUGSA members who choose not to work and are on strike are no longer eligible for their work-related compensation and benefits, which include tuition waivers,” a university spokesperson said in a statement. “Given that the striking workers are not entitled to a tuition waiver, they have been reminded of their responsibility to ensure that their tuition is paid in line with how the university treats other students who have unpaid tuition.”

Only striking union members who make up less than 20% of the union will be affected, the university said.

Temple also warned campus residents against participating in the union’s planned February 15 walkout.

“We want you to know that striking TUGSA members have no authority to cancel classes or make any promises regarding your attendance, grades, or any other matter related to courses they no longer teach,” Gregory Mandel, Temple provost, he said in an email to students.

The union also encouraged college students to skip class and join daily union demonstrations in solidarity. Mandel warned that missing classes or assignments could hurt students’ academic progress.

“We understand that some of these striking instructors are making this demand while continuing to teach so as not to jeopardize their own academic progress,” Mandel said.

The American Association of University Professors supported the union, calling the university’s actions shameful and retaliatory.

“The vindictive act of cutting health care and tuition benefits for graduate students instead of just sitting at the table and negotiating is a shameful tactic designed to break the will of the hard-working graduate students whose merits make Temple University the best university it can be,” said AAUP President Irene Mulvey in the statement Thursday.

The union and the university do not appear to be close to resolving the contentious issues.

The union is calling for a base salary for graduate assistants of $32,800, up from the current average of $19,500. The university has offered a 3 percent raise over the course of the four-year contract, which equates to a salary of roughly $22,500 in 2026, according to TUGSA.

The union also wants to increase parental leave from five paid days to 45. Temple offers 10 days, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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