Striking Temple University graduate students rally around the Bell Tower on Temple's Philadelphia campus on Feb. 22, 2023. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After a six-week strike that disrupted classes at Temple University and attracted the support of political and labor leaders on the national scale, graduate students are going back to work.

The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association announced Monday it had ratified the tentative agreement offered by the administration last week, resulting in a contract that addressed all of the union’s core demands and “strengthened TUGSA for future negotiations.”

Nearly all voting members — 98%, according to a union statement — voted to ratify, a stark reversal of a vote in mid-February on the university’s first attempt at an agreement.

“Considering what we were up against with Temple’s unprecedented retaliation and striking in February – the worst possible month to strike – it’s a really remarkable achievement, especially given the ideological orientations of the people in charge in Temple’s administration,” said Matt Ford, a PhD candidate in sociology, staff organizer for TUGSA and the lead negotiator on the bargaining team.

The new contract is effective immediately, according to the union. It includes:

  • A raise from an average of $19,500 in pay to $24,000 for this academic year, retroactive to Jan. 1
  • $1,000 raises for each of the next three academic years
  • A one-time $500 bonus for all union members
  • 25% coverage of dependent health care, which had been uncovered
  • Increased parental leave from five business days to 21 calendar days
  • Bereavement leave expanded to include five additional days for international travel
  • Improvements to the grievance procedure to allow a meeting with the university as its first step
  • The establishment of a joint committee representing both TUGSA and the university to update workload guidelines

Temple President Jason Wingard said he was pleased to reach an agreement “acknowledging the union's priorities and reflecting the university’s respect for our graduate students and their impactful work.”

“Over the past six weeks, Temple demonstrated remarkable resilience,” he said in a statement. “Perseverance conquers, and today's agreement is evidence of our collective willingness to unite and advance.”

An unprecedented and acrimonious mediation process between the two sides brought attention to Wingard’s initial silence on the dispute and the administration’s controversial decision to revoke tuition remission and health care for striking workers.

Even before the contract was ratified, the university had backtracked and restarted paying health care subsidies. The agreement puts an end to the university’s request that graduate student workers pay their usually-covered tuition fees.

TUGSA described these measures as “retaliatory” and called their reversal “a victory for graduate worker unions everywhere.”

The new contract is the culmination of years of work to build a stronger union, per Ford, the TUGSA staff organizer. It will “fundamentally change the way the university functions and the way education is delivered,” he said, resulting in a higher-quality education for undergraduates.

“We’ve pushed back on some of the more corporate-minded aspects of the current administration’s approach to higher education,” Ford said. “I’m really excited to see where TUGSA goes from here, but also where Temple goes from here.”

The strike began Jan. 31, as union members sought a pay raise from an average of $19,500 a year to $32,800. They also wanted to lower the cost of health insurance for family members, increase parental leave beyond the five days previously allowed, and improve working conditions by securing control over their own workloads.

The work stoppage attracted the support of a broad coalition of political and union leaders, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Bob Casey, Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The university’s decision to revoke tuition remission and health care inspired swift condemnation. Casey called the tactic “unacceptable,” and the union said at the time it planned to file an unfair labor complaint.

TUGSA’s strike came on the heels of the country’s largest strike of academic workers, when the University of California system’s 48,000 teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars went on strike. That strike ended in December 2022 with a nearly 50% pay increase for the union’s members.

Updated March 14 with details about the contract

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