With negotiations at a stalemate, Temple graduate students go on strike
The two sides remain far apart on pay, health care coverage for dependents and paid parental leave time. Pickets are scheduled to go up Tuesday morning with a rally planned for the afternoon.
After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations, the union representing 750 graduate student teaching and research assistants at Temple University went on strike Tuesday, for the first time in the union’s history.
Members picketed around campus and held a rally outside Charles Library before a scheduled board of trustees meeting, said Bethany Kosmicki, a member of the negotiating committee and past president of Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA). The union is calling the strike “indefinite;” Kosmicki said they intend to remain out until the university offers a fair contract.
Graduate students teach core undergraduate courses and assist professors with research.
» READ MORE: Graduate students at Temple inch closer to a strike
“Temple’s administration has repeatedly ignored our demands, refusing us fair pay, affordable dependent healthcare, and increased parental leave,” Kosmicki said in a statement. “TAs and RAs are a core function of the university, teaching essential courses and conducting world class research. We deserve a contract that reflects our value to the university.”
The strike comes as more graduate students around the country have been forming unions and demanding better pay and as some major universities have awarded big pay boosts to their graduate students.
At Temple, the two sides remain far apart, particularly on pay. The average pay for a teaching and research assistant at Temple is $19,500 a year, and the union has sought to raise it to over $32,000, which it said is a necessary cost-of-living adjustment. The university’s offer of 3% raises over the four-year contract gets the average pay to about $22,000 in 2026, Kosmicki said.
Temple in a statement defended its proposals and said the university will assign alternate instructors to cover classes if graduate students do not show up. Some classes were canceled on Tuesday as the university adjusted to the strike, but no estimate was available as to how many classes. The university last semester set up a website to address the negotiations and potential strike.
“After almost a year of negotiations, TUGSA continues to demand 50% pay increases, increases in free health coverage and other benefits not available to even full-time employees,” the university said. “The pay increases, one-time payments (of up to $500), and cost-free benefit package that the university has offered to TUGSA would allow the university to continue attracting and retaining outstanding graduate students while responsibly managing a budget primarily funded by tuition dollars. This compensation package is valued at more than $40,000 annually for a nine-month commitment of working 20 hours per week while providing 12 full months of free health coverage.”
The university also has said students receive free tuition, which is worth about $20,000 annually. Kosmicki contended that graduate students who are more advanced in their studies and working on their dissertation would not have nearly as high a tuition.
Strikes are a rarity at Temple. This is the first one in the graduate student union’s approximately 20-year history. The university’s hospital nurses were out for nearly a month in 2010. The Temple Association of University Professionals, the faculty union, hasn’t had a strike since 1990.
Elsewhere, union efforts have been underway at Yale, Boston University, Florida State, the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins, wrote Michael T. Nietzel, former president of Missouri State University, in a piece he wrote in December for Forbes.
The University of Pennsylvania in December awarded a nearly 25% increase in its minimum pay for doctoral students — the largest one-time boost in the school’s history. Starting in 2023-24, the minimum stipend will rise from $30,547 to $38,000.
A year ago, Princeton announced a 25% increase in its doctoral student stipend rates, its largest one-time increase. Pay there went from $31,720 to $40,000. Yale in April announced increases in some cases as high as 14%. In September, Duke University said it would give students a one-time $1,000 payment in October and an 11.4% increase in its stipend for 2023-24. Also last semester, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it would raise pay 25%.
Temple earlier in January said: “Each university, like every employer, has different levels of resources and considerations when making decisions on major cost items like compensation.”
In addition to pay, the sides are split on health insurance. Members get their own coverage for free but must pay for dependents. The union wants to see that change. Kosmicki said a family plan can cost more than 80% of a graduate student’s salary. She said that’s particularly hard for international students who are required to have health-care coverage for themselves and family to stay in the country.
The union also wants to increase paid parental leave days from five to 45; the university is offering 10, Kosmicki said.
Temple has recommended that international students consult with an immigration lawyer for any potential impact on their visas before making a decision to strike. Kosmicki said that the union has received assurances from its legal team and that efforts are underway to mitigate any effects of the strike on members.
Members of TUGSA authorized the negotiating committee to call a strike in November as negotiations cooled, but it was the most recent negotiating session that pushed Tuesday’s action, Kosmicki said.
“The university did not deliver a counter [proposal] and essentially told us that day that unless we were willing to continue to make significant cuts [in our proposal] there was no point in negotiating,” she said. “We just felt that we had no other choice.”
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