March 13, 2023 — Temple graduate students have overwhelmingly approved a tentative agreement reached with the university on March 10, putting an end to their nearly six-week-long strike. Demanding better pay and more benefits, Temple University Graduate Students Association, Local 6290, staged a walkout for the first time in its 20-year history. This measure comes on the heels of similar walkouts and strikes initiated by graduate students at Yale, Johns Hopkins and the University of California system.
TUGSA, which represents 750 Temple graduate students, had been in contract negotiations with the university for over a year.
As inflation rates skyrocketed to 7.5% in 2022, graduate students felt the pinch of near minimum wages — $19,500 in a city where it takes a salary of $36,000 to live sustainably. And with a tuition increase of over 30.13% compared with 10 years ago, it is perplexing why Temple is shortchanging some of its most vulnerable employees. (collegetuitioncomp.com)
The graduate students proposed increases in base salaries to $32,800, closer to a livable wage. (news-journal.com, Feb. 20)
The proposals of the strikers were initially met with great resistance from Temple University officials. According to Manasa Gopakumar, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and a member of the TUGSA negotiating team, the administrators didn’t listen to many of the union’s proposals and were unwilling to go beyond a mere 3% wage increase. In addition to this, on Feb. 8 the University revoked its tuition remission for the striking students, telling them that they had until March 8 to pay the full semester cost, and the administration cut off the striking students’ medical insurance.
TUGSA members soundly rejected an earlier tentative agreement that failed to meet their basic demands. The current proposal includes a salary increase to $24,000 in the first year of the contract and $27,000 in the fourth year. Temple will pay 25% toward health insurance subsidies for the students’ dependents, as well as reinstate tuition remission, and health insurance. Temple will grant bereavement pay up to four days, and extend paid parental leave plan from five to 21 calendar days for the birth of a child. (inquirer.com, March 13) The full details of the contract have yet to be published.
While the base salary figure falls short of the $32,800 figure which TUGSA proposed, the other inclusions are an encouraging sign and further proof of the power of organizing and what the working class is truly capable of achieving.
The Temple students’ struggle has attracted nationwide attention and the solidarity of fellow graduate students who have waged similar battles with their universities. Politicians like Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikil Saval and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders offered their support to the effort, both making the astute observation that if Temple can find the money to pay its football coach $2 million a year, it can pay its graduate students a living wage.