Student workers organize at Temple University in Philadelphia


Workers with Temple University Graduate Students Association (TUGSA) and the Temple University Undergraduate Workers Organizing Committee (TUUWOC) are fighting back against the Temple administration’s abuse. Workers Voice spoke with student organizers about some of the difficulties they face, and also the hope they feel from the struggle.

Grad student workers approve strike authorization

An Oct. 10 rally organized by TUGSA brought out over 150 grad student workers, other students, and even workers from outside the campus in a show of solidarity. Speakers from TUGSA highlighted the administration’s continued refusal to meet and discuss demands about raising the quality of compensation and work for TA’s and RA’s. The rally was followed by a vote from the membership to authorize a strike and a picket. Chants included, “Whats outrageous? Temple Wages! What’s disgusting? Union Busting!”

TUGSA has been in negotiations with Temple Admin since February 2022 to increase wages by 50% in the first year, with a 6% raise in each of the next three years. They are also seeking a regular cost-of-living adjustment, paid maternity and paternity leave, health care for dependents, and more investment in classrooms. By the Nov. 11 deadline to vote, TUSGA workers voted with 99 percent approval to go on strike, should the administration refuse their demands.

“The administration has hired strike breakers and scabs in anticipation of the work stoppage. The TUGSA strike authorization ended yesterday and, from what I’ve heard, it has massive support. Things are heating up and TUGSA is rising to the challenge,” sources from TUUWOC (the undergraduate workers’ union) told Workers Voice.

TUGSA workers have taken a cue from several successful strikes, including those of other graduate students. TUGSA stated on its website:

“Do strikes work?

“Yes. Strikes are the most powerful action a union can take to pressure their employer to meet demands. In recent years, grad student unions have gone on strike and won the same kinds of raises and benefits that we are seeking:

  • “Graduate workers at Clark University recently went on strike for 5 days and won raises ranging from 20% all the way up to 90%
  • “At Indiana University, grad workers went on strike in the Spring semester and pressured the University to eliminate international student fees
  • “The graduate labor union at Columbia went on a strike last year to win their first collective bargaining agreement, which included pay increases up to 30%, as well as support for grad workers with families and children
  • “Even at Temple, strikes have worked to push the administration to negotiate fairly. In 1990, Temple faculty went on strike and won 20% raises over four years.
  • “Strikes also work in Philly, as we’ve seen recently with, for example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art employees.”

TUGSA is also fighting for better education at Temple overall:
”Going on strike to improve your working conditions is the most effective way to improve your students’ learning conditions. The contract provisions we win through striking will make Temple a better place to teach and to learn….

“Of all the R1 public universities in the country, Temple spends the least on instruction. This year, they have increased tuition by 3.9% while slashing department budgets by 3.6%. All this while making over $238 million in ‘excess revenue over expenses,’ the equivalent of profit, just last year alone.”

Undergraduate workers organize

“On the undergraduate worker front, we’ve made progress and have a strategy for moving into Spring 2023.”, a TUUWOC member told Workers’ Voice. While TUGSA has organized grad student workers on Temple Campus for quite some time, undergrad workers have no official union representation. TUUWOC is organizing to change that, and are taking inspiration from TUGSA.

One undergraduate student, who works for a measly $10 per hour planning and teaching a course (something that used to be done by tenured faculty) writes that: “I’m barely scraping by. There are no benefits whatsoever, making me fork over more than half of my monthly wages in just health-care costs. Temple seems to think that we are lucky to even be employed, that the convenience of our work’s location is somehow so great that we aren’t worthy of acknowledgement, not to mention a living wage or basic respect.”

“The enthusiasm generated by the strike authorization cannot be understated:
Undergraduate workers’ struggle is honed and guided by the example of TUGSA. Seeing their zeal, perseverance, and vision inspires more confidence than I thought I could have in American labor movements. … If and when they strike, I know that I will be in the picket line with them. At all levels (graduate, undergraduate, adjunct), Temple runs on underpaid, underserved, and undervalued labor. Together, I believe we can change that.”

TUUWOC is also providing a space where student workers can talk frankly about working conditions. According to another student worker:
“I work for Temple University in two different positions. One is paid by a stipend that breaks down to $10/hr and the other pays an hourly rate of $12. This is nowhere near a living wage in the city of Philadelphia. The sad thing is that, in the grand scheme of things, these are among the better-paid positions at Temple University.

“I wouldn’t have realized how poorly Temple U. pays and treats its workers it if it hadn’t been for the undergraduate worker’s organizing committee—there are few spaces where talking about working conditions and wages are considered normal, which isolates workers and makes us feel like the problems we deal with are individual and not systemic.”

Undergraduate workers set up an anonymous wage survey (HERE) for Temple student workers to fill out, which has been helpful to organizers in breaking the normalcy of worker silence. The demands put forward by TUUWOC in its union platform include a $15 minimum wage, time-and-a-half overtime pay, better health insurance, as well as transparent hiring and pay raise practices.

At this point it is uncertain whether or not Temple will do the right thing and cede to the demands of the student workers. These workers are very determined and have a large base of support. It is vital that the student workers—and all of their supporters—broaden out their support as widely as possible to put pressure on the administration. Collective struggle is the only way working people have ever gotten anything significant from the bosses.

Photo: TUGSA

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