‘We’re here to stay!’: Graduate student strike ends after 42 days, 30% pay raise

Striking Temple University graduate students won a 30% increase in salary for their part-time work as research and teaching assistants.

Budgetary constraints could cause Temple to cut graduate student and assistantship spots, as other universities have done.

After 42 days of striking, the Temple University Graduate Student Association (TUGSA) and the Pennsylvania university’s administration reached a contract agreement on Monday.

Campus Reform previously covered the Temple administration’s decision to revoke tuition remittance and healthcare benefits for striking students three weeks into the protest after the strike began severely impacting university research and undergraduate coursework.

Ratified by a 344 to 8 union vote, the new agreement increases the minimum graduate student pay to $27,000 per year for part-time work, a 30% increase over the four-year contract, on top of tuition remittance. Additionally, 25% of dependent health insurance will also be provided by the school, according to Philadelphia’s PBS affiliate, WHYY.

[RELATED: University cracks down on grad student strike in effort to preserve undergrad education]

The union initially wanted a salary increase to over $32,000, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

TUGSA took to Twitter to call the agreement “a historic achievement for our union” in spite of “unprecedented retaliation and intimidation, not to mention the cowardice and cruelty of [Temple’s administration].”

The university “retaliated in heinous ways & found out the hard way that union-busting won’t work when workers stand together. No employer should cut strikers’ healthcare. No university should use tuition to threaten workers. No one should threaten immigration status,” the tweet continues.

Temple President Jason Wingard announced the agreement by saying the new contract meets the goals of “acknowledging the union’s priorities and reflecting the university’s respect for our graduate students and their impactful work,” calling the contract “evidence of our collective willingness to unite and advance.”

Wingard also added that the strike process “demonstrated remarkable resilience.”

Temple’s resilience may be tested by the long-term implications of Monday’s agreement, however, as graduate student positions at the university may face cuts.

After a six-week strike last year of nearly 50,000 graduate students and post-docs, the University of California System (UC) union won a sizable victory of increasing graduate research assistant pay by $13,500 and graduate teaching assistant pay by $11,000 per year according to The New York Times. Additionally, the new UC agreement strengthened transportation, healthcare, and childcare benefits for graduate student workers.

In early March, however, UC President Michael V. Drake internally advised all academic departments “to reduce graduate enrollment by up to 33 percent and reduce teaching assistant positions by 30 percent” due to budget constraints, according to insider information obtained by the World Socialist Web Site.

[RELATED: End to graduate workers’ strike may be near]

Similar financial concerns were on the Temple administration’s radar when engaging in negotiations with TUGSA.

In a Feb.14 update, Temple Provost Gregory N. Mandel and Chief Operating Officer Ken Kaiser issued a joint statement saying that the administration had to balance graduate student demands with the “need to ensure that Temple remains economically sound and able to provide an excellent education to our students.”

Although the future remains uncertain, TUGSA is proud of its accomplishment.

“We told the whole damn world that [Temple University] is TUGSA territory, and we’re here to stay.”

 Temple, UC, and TUGSA have been contacted with request for comment, and this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.