By JOHN LESLIE
After 42 days on strike, Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) members ratified a new agreement with the university. The contract will provide members “with significant wage increases in the first year followed by substantial raises in subsequent years,” according to TUGSA.
In an announcement on Twitter, TUGSA stated: “After four days of voting, membership has RATIFIED the March 9th Tentative Agreement 344-8. This ratification landslide and the gains of our new Collective Bargaining Agreement are a historic achievement for our union.” In another Twitter post, TUGSA stated that “despite unprecedented retaliation and intimidation, not to mention the cowardice and cruelty of @TempleUniv admin, we won transformative changes to our CBA that allow us to keep building and organizing in the years ahead.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer (March 13, 2023) quotes TUGSA’s Bethany Kosmicki, a member of the union’s negotiating team and former union president, as saying, “This new contract is a first step toward the university recognizing the value of our work. … I feel like the collective power and strength that our union had throughout this strike really sent the message that we needed a fair contract, and we were going to be out here until Temple gave us one.”
Graduate students’ minimum pay will rise to $24,000 in the first year and $27,000 by year four—a 30% increase over the life of the contract, The Inquirer reported. Graduate students will also get a $500 one-time payment and the university will pay 25% toward health insurance subsidies for their dependents.
The contract also includes increased parental leave from five business days to 21 calendar days and expanded bereavement leave that includes five additional days for international travel. The grievance procedure is also improved to include a meeting with the university as a first step. The agreement also calls for the formation of a joint committee representing both TUGSA and the university to update workload guidelines.
Intimidation and threats
On Feb. 21, TUGSA, with 83% of its members voting, overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement with the university in a vote of 352-30. This “no” vote followed attempts by the university to break the strike through intimidation and threats against the strikers. In the second week of the graduate student strike, the university has made a move to end the strike by threatening the tuition and benefits of the strikers.
Striking students received the following message: “As a result of your participation in the TUGSA strike, your tuition remission has been removed for the Spring semester. You now owe the full balance listed in TUpay, which is due by Thursday, March 9. If your balance is not paid in full by the due date, you will be assessed a $100 late payment fee and a financial hold will be placed on your student account. This hold will prevent future registration.”
In the face of this campaign of intimidation and threats by the university, the strikers and their supporters in the undergraduate student body, the labor movement, and the broader community maintained their courage and solidarity. This solidarity should be an example for strikers in other contract fights on and off campus. Undergraduate student organizers told Workers’ Voice 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.
This victory will have important implications for the upcoming negotiations for the other unions on campus—from the full-time professors to blue-collar staff to clerical workers. The Temple University Association of University Professionals (TAUP) contract with Temple expires on Oct. 15 of this year and it is very possible that Temple will play the same ruthless games with them. TUGSA chief negotiator Matt Ford told Workers’ Voice, “They’re probably going to play hardball with TAUP. TAUP should be aware of the importance of what we are doing—even if it is just a self-interested thing. If they [Temple] are able to crush us, then TAUP stands no chance.”
Coming fight at Rutgers
On March 10, the unions representing instructors at New Jersey’s Rutgers University announced a strike authorization vote by their members. Members of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, representing all full-time faculty, graduate workers, postdoctoral associates, and counselors and Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union (part-time faculty) voted to authorize a strike following a 10-day voting period. This follows “more than nine months of bargaining (which) produced no agreement on contract proposals the unions made last spring—the result … of the Rutgers administration dragging its feet in negotiations, not even responding to some proposals and making inadequate counter-proposals on others.” A Rutgers strike would involve campuses at New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden.
Philly is a union town
The Temple Graduate student victory offers positive lessons about how to win strikes through determination, building broad alliances in the community, student body, and labor movement—and the necessity of solidarity. Solidarity efforts were key to putting the university administration on notice that the city and region were in support of the strikers’ demands. This strike brought to life the common chant of Philadelphia unions: “Philly is a union town!” 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.”
Top photo: Abdul R. Sulayman / Philadelphia Tribune. Below: John Leslie / Workers’ Voice