TUGSA takes a stand against Temple to ensure that graduate employers get paid a livable wage.
Written by Virginia Bates, Photographed by TUGSA
Student owls have seen an uproar on Liacouras walk after TUGSA, the labor union for Temple TA’s and RA’s, had been refused by the university after trying to negotiate a pay raise.
Every four years, TUGSA negotiates a contract that determines their employment with the university. This contract covers everything from wages and healthcare to grievance procedures for harassment, discrimination and overwork. It exists to protect and improve the wages, benefits and working conditions of graduate employees.
It’s important for the labor union to have this deal as they represent around 750 people teaching assistants and research assistants at Temple.
After 11 months of negotiations since January, the university administration has failed to seriously engage with TUGSA proposals; stalling tactics, showing up late to sessions and providing unacceptable offers despite the union putting forward well researched proposals that respond to the concrete needs of TAs and RA.
“At the negotiating table the university has told us that we ‘are not a core function of the university’; despite the fact that the university runs on our labor they try to claim that we dont matter,” said Laurie Robins, member of TUGSA.
After being bluntly ignored, members voted with an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike to be called by TUGAs elected board. A strike isn’t something that the union wanted to happen but with no help from the administration, TUGSA had to take action.
The authorization of a strike did not mean the strike was initiated, but the vote meant that a strike could happen if the union felt it necessary.
“We need to be paid enough to live in the city where we work, we need affordable dependent healthcare, we need adequate bereavement and parental leave and we need better working conditions,” said Robins.
Members protested around campus making sure their voices were heard and other students were informed, in the form of protest, class discussions, and signs around campus.
The average wage for TA’s and RA’s is $19,500 a year, and according to TUGSA, a liveable wage in Philadelphia is $37,000. Since the authorization of a strike, Temple has offered the TUGSA a 3% wage increase, but the TA’s and RA’s were not pleased.
“The university is going to turn you guys against us, we want you to know why we are doing this,” said an anonymous member to a class.
The university sent intimidating emails to graduate and undergraduate students, providing ultimatums for if the strike were to occur. Much of the information in the emails is false, some even illegal.
Since the strike was legal, the union law protects the grad students’ rights to participate.
Since the 1970s, thousands and thousands of RAs and TAs across the US have engaged in lawful strike activity without being fired. This is also true for international students, though Temple threatened international students with deportation. However, they have the same rights as US citizens to engage in union activity.
“We hope that Temple will do what is right and give us the living wage, affordable dependent healthcare, adequate parental and bereavement leave and better working conditions that we all need,” said Robins.
Teachers have even used their personal email to keep students in the loop without Temple intervening, allowing supporters to stay anonymous during the strike process.
The education of undergraduate students depends on the TA’s and RA’s as they teach the majority of the lower level and general education classes.
On January 30, TUGSA called their strike. Grad students picketed around campus while they canceled their classes.
“If this strike is successful, maybe undergrads will see that public gatherings and strikes are successful. If we win, you guys will realize you have the bargaining power as well for tuition and more. That scares Temple,” said an anonymous member.