On Jan. 31 of this year, the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) launched the first strike in their 25-year history. The decision to strike came as a result of years of organizing that largely began in 2020, after Temple’s decision to force in-person classes in the fall of 2020 led to a completely preventable COVID-19 outbreak. Striking for 42 days, graduate student-workers faced cuts to their health insurance, threats to lose tuition remissions, and more. Nevertheless, TUGSA persevered, winning a new contract that raised wages and eliminated Temple’s wage-tier system for graduate student-workers in different departments.
Grad workers in Philadelphia just decisively rejected an offer from Temple University’s administration. The vote was overwhelming: by a margin of 92 percent. TUGSA, a union of 750 teaching and research assistants at Temple University in Philadelphia, is entering the fourth week of its strike. TUGSA members make $19,500 a year in a city where annual rent alone runs about $23,000. The union is fighting for a 50 percent raise in wages. In earlier rounds of negotiating, the university’s offer was 2 percent, later raised to 3 percent. Just after the strike started, the administration escalated the fight in an unprecedented way, revoking the grad workers’ health insurance and their tuition remission.
All last week the whole campus was whispering about the student walkout. How big? Will it flop? It could be massive. Are you going? Are you canceling class? I’d been touching base with my union siblings and talking to my students the whole week. Our union leaders sent us all an email to remind us, with a wink, that only teachers create attendance policies; we can decide whether or not to cancel class; and let’s get ourselves to the rally. More than one ominous email from the bosses told faculty to keep away and warned the undergrads to do the same. But they’re almost laughably incompetent. My phone dings.
Coast to coast, the biggest labor struggles happening today are happening at universities. We’ve seen it with grad workers at the University of California and adjuncts at The New School in New York. That movement has spread to Temple University in Philadelphia, too, where I teach. Just a few weeks ago, graduate workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. But it’s not just grad workers who are organizing. Last semester, Temple undergrads formed the Temple University Undergraduate Workers Organizing Committee, or TUUWOC. And TUUWOC is moving aggressively to unionize the thousands of undergrad workers. Temple relies on about 4,100 undergrad workers. They do the kinds of mostly menial tasks that keep the university running from the honors center and student center to the IT offices, residence halls, and beyond.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Temple University recently announced a new initiative to increase “campus security,” that is, the power of campus police and the extent to which they work with the Philadelphia Police Department. The following is a statement by Rank-and-File Temple (RAFT), the rank-and-file caucus of TAUP (AFT Local 4531). TAUP is the union for teachers, librarians, and other education workers at Temple University. RAFT has also helped lead the struggle to disaffiliate the union national AFT from all cop unions. Temple says they want more cops for “security.” They already have the biggest, most expensive campus police force in the country. Cops are not the answer. We say no to TUPD and all police.