“Shame! Shame! Shame!” Since Jan. 31, this has been the message from Temple University Graduate Students’ Association, AFL-CIO Local 6290 to its administration, in particular to university President Jason Wingard as the workers have continued to strike for higher wages, dependent health care and comprehensive parental leave. Currently, the average annual salary for a teaching assistant at Temple is about $19,500. The union is asking for at least $32,000, which still pales in comparison to Philadelphia’s rising cost of living. Beyond fair wages, TUGSA is asking the university to provide affordable health care plans for dependents as well as reasonable parental leave. In comparison to the five days they are currently allowed, the union is asking for 45.
TUGSA has been in negotiations with Temple since January 2022, and voted to authorize a strike in November. In response to TUGSA’s demands for a living wage, the administration claimed that workers’ wages were never meant to cover their full living costs. According to Media and Communications doctoral student and TUGSA member Kate Dawson, by admitting that these positions are reserved for those who are already financially stable, they are confessing to the inequity that drives to the heart of the strike. She explained that workloads are not evenly distributed, and due to arbitrary fellowship grants, “some people who make less than others end up having to do more work than students who make more. They split us up based on pay so they can pit us against each other … They purposefully misrepresent our numbers to paint us as a fringe minority. I don’t blame the workers who are being intimidated. It’s the administration’s fault. They are trying to sow division.”
An example of the intimidation Dawson was referring to has to do with international students’ status in the country being threatened, having received a message warning them of “potential visa problems if they chose to strike.” In addition, Temple has accused striking workers of harassing other students and faculty, which is a tactic they used to justify an increase in police presence.
Since the strike began over a month ago, Temple has responded by revoking workers’ health care and tuition remission, instituting late fees and account holds for tuition payments not made in full by March. Once students resorted to crowdfunding their own health care costs, public pressure forced the university to reinstate workers’ health care plans. In an email to students, the administration tried to frame this walk back as a result of TUGSA negotiating in good faith, but the truth is that they have been negotiating since last January. It is the administration who has been union busting the whole way. Their heinous attempts at retaliation illustrate how out of touch they are with workers’ dedication to their demands. This is a crucial moment for the union’s efforts, and the university’s concession is only fueling them with the energy they need to remain strong.
On multiple occasions in February, hundreds of undergraduate students gathered at TUGSA’s headquarters, the Bell Tower, to show solidarity with their TAs and RAs. Understanding the importance of not crossing a picket line, undergrads refused to attend classes taught by scabs as they proudly voiced their frustrations with chants directed at the university’s administration building. These efforts have been made possible by the recently formed Temple Undergrad Solidarity Coalition, emphasizing the importance of organizing everyone who is a victim to the administration’s greed.
On Feb. 21, the union overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement presented by the university. The agreement, turned down by over 92% of members, with a voter turnout of over 83%, only offered a raise in salary to $23,600 by 2026 and did not offer monetary support for dependent health care. Workers remain energetic as they continue to picket, and are eager for the administration to come to the bargaining table in the coming days and weeks.
If you would like to support TUGSA, donations can be made at tugsa.betterworld.org/campaigns/tugsa-strike-fund.