By JOHN LESLIE
As the Temple graduate student strike enters its third week, the strikers and their supporters are determined to outlast Temple’s administration despite the threats and intimidation from the university. Last week, Workers’ Voice reported that the university had moved to break the strike by threatening the tuition and benefits of the strikers. Local politicians and local and national union leaders have condemned this action by the Temple administration.
Temple’s student government issued a statement on Feb. 12 calling on the administration to reinstate tuition remission and health-care coverage: “We, the Temple Student Government, stand in support with Temple’s teaching and research assistants in their pursuit of a living wage, health-care expansion, and expanded family and bereavement leave. The hard work and dedication from Temple’s TAs and RAs deserve a sustainable wage.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, strikers and supporters held the largest demonstration on campus so far. The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA, AFT Local 6290) and other union supporters were joined by undergraduates who engaged in a walkout in solidarity with the strikers. One undergrad activist told WV that shortly after student activists had leafleted the dorms to build the walkout, a mass email was sent out to all Temple students discouraging the action.
After a spirited rally at the Bell Tower, a central point of the campus, more than 2000 marchers crossed the campus to a point where they entered North Broad Street, one of Philadelphia’s main thoroughfares. The march proceeded up Broad, chanting, “This is what solidarity looks like!” and “Temple admins, you can’t hide! We all see your greedy side!” Marchers stopped in front of the main administration offices to chant “Shame! Shame!” and “Scabs out!” At a rally following the march, one speaker promised, “This is only the beginning.”
What’s at stake
With the cut-off of tuition remission and health insurance coverage, strikers face more hardships as they continue their fight. One striker, Hadley Leary, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she requires medication that costs $7000 per month without insurance: “Not having health care is terrifying for someone in my position. I make a little over $20,000 a year. I cannot afford to pay that.” Leary, like other strikers, is forced to pay hundreds of dollars per month to maintain coverage while on strike. Graduate students with dependents face staggering health-care premiums. One striker with a wife and two children told The Inquirer that he pays $988 a month to cover his family.
The average base pay of a graduate or research assistant at Temple is $19,500 annually. The university’s offer of a 3 percent raise would increase the base rate to $22,000 over the course of a four-year contract. TUGSA is demanding a raise to $32,000 per year. Given the high cost of living in Philadelphia, with soaring rents and inflation on basic necessities, the union’s demands are more than reasonable. While TUGSA reports some progress in talks, the two parties remain far apart on the question of wages.
Comparing grad student compensation at Temple with other universities in the region shows a marked difference in pay for graduate or research assistants. Public universities in the region pay grad students much more fairly. For example, Penn State, pays grad students $24,822 annually and covers 75% of health insurance premiums for dependents of grad students, while Rutgers, in New Jersey, pays teaching and graduate assistants $30,162 and offers family health-care coverage for 5% to grad students.
Private Ivy League schools in the region, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania (“Penn”), have both increased grad student stipends by 25%. Penn’s compensation will go from $30,547 to $38,000 in the academic year 2023-24. Princeton’s grad student compensation will rise from $31,720 to $40,000. Penn does not cover dependent health care, while Princeton offers some coverage to dependents as well as credits for child care and housing.
Last fall, 48,000 teaching assistants, tutors, researchers, and postdoctoral students went on strike in the University of California system, which encompasses 10 campuses. The Los Angeles Times reported,“For academic student employees, the new contract will raise minimum pay from about $23,250 to about $34,000 for nine months of part-time work by Oct. 1, 2024. The rate at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and UCLA would be $36,500, an acknowledgment of the high cost of living in these cities and higher pay needed to compete for top talent.”
Continued solidarity actions are necessary in the days and weeks ahead. The local and national labor movement must say in one voice, “Victory to TUGSA!” Mobilizing the undergraduate student body in solidarity with the strike will be crucial to TUGSA’s eventual victory in this fight.
Union members should be demanding that their unions take concrete action against Temple’s union busting by pressuring Temple’s corporate and foundation contributors. For example, pressure could be applied to major corporate donors like GlaxoSmithKline, Vanguard Group, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Independence Blue Cross. As Workers’ Voice wrote previously, “All working people in the region and nationally have an interest in the victory of the Temple grad students. Their victory is ours. This means that we have to build concrete solidarity in the unions and neighborhoods to let Temple know that their union busting is unacceptable.”
All out to support TUGSA! Contribute to the TUGSA Strike Fund! All out to support TUGSA! Solidarity with the strikers! One day longer, one day stronger!
Photos: (Top) John Leslie / Workers’ Voice (Below) Jessica Griffin / Philadelphia Inquirer
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