Temple, striking grad students reach tentative agreement | Monday Morning Coffee

The students walked off the job in late January, seeking higher wages and better living conditions

By: - February 20, 2023 7:11 am
Protesters gather at the Temple University bell tower during rally on Thursday 2/2/23 (Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler).

More than two weeks after they walked off the job, officials at Temple University and striking graduate teaching and research assistants have reached a tentative agreement that could end the work stoppage.

The deal now on the table includes wage increases in all four years and a one-time payment effective this month, according to the Associated Press.

An announcement on the university’s website said students will retain free health insurance for themselves — but it does not mention coverage for dependents, which members of the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association had been seeking, the AP reported.

“We are pleased with the outcome and eager to welcome our students back to their teaching, research and studies,” Ken Kaiser, the university’s
senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in the statement, which was posted on Friday.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, a Temple graduate, speaks at the Temple University Bell Tower on Tuesday, 2/14/23 (Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler).

In their statement, university officials said the graduate students’ union had agreed to “withdraw pending claims of unfair labor practices related to the negotiations process.”

In a Saturday statement, the union said the unfair labor practice claims remain active. On its website, the union said its membership is still on strike, and will remain on strike until a new deal is ratified.

Union leaders said Temple’s administration offered a contract counterproposal on Friday and the union’s negotiating team agreed to put it before members, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Members will now have the chance to vote on this counterproposal,” union member Haroon Popal said, according to the Inquirer. “The collective membership makes decisions and we will continue with that process as we have through this entire year of negotiating.”

Union members walked off the job in late January, marking the first labor stoppage since its founding, the Capital-Star previously reported.

The current average pay for Temple University graduate employees is $19,500 a year. The proposed base wage is $32,800, which is designed to bring the graduate employee pay in line with the cost of living in Philadelphia.

The students are also looking for the ability to add two or three dependents on healthcare plans to about 58% and 86% of the annual salary, as well as extend Temples’ current parental leave plan from 5 days to an average 45 days, Capital-Star Correspondent Michala Butler reported.

Manasa Gopakumar, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and member of the TUGSA contract negotiations team, said the association is working to draw attention to the fact that negotiations with the administration have not gone anywhere since they started this process one year ago.

“These demands have to do with our living conditions and our working conditions. Graduate workers at Temple make very little money, and just cannot survive in the city,” Gopakumar said. “The working conditions are so poor that it affects the quality of education and research in this university. Therefore, it is not only affecting us graduate students, but also the quality of education that undergraduate students are receiving from the institution.”

State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, speaks at the Temple University Bell Tower on Tuesday, 2/14/23 (Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler).
State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, speaks at the Temple University Bell Tower on Tuesday, 2/14/23 (Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler).

University officials rescinded free tuition benefits for the students, giving them until March 9 to pay their bills, Butler reported.

Last week, Democratic lawmakers from Philadelphia, including an alumnus whose district includes the university, rallied on behalf of the striking students.

State Rep. Darisha Parker, D-Philadelphia, said lawmakers will refuse to speak to Temple’s representatives and lobbyists if they continue not to negotiate.

“I will not answer Temple’s emails or phone calls until there are agreements that are signed for these TUGSA members,” Parker said. “We are not going to sign anything for Temple until everyone in this audience is satisfied. We are also not going anywhere until these demands are met.”

A vote on the agreement is expected in the coming days, according to the Inquirer.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.