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Graduate students at Temple University ratify new contract, end strike

Labor fight drew attention in February when university withheld tuition and health benefits for some striking workers

Teaching and research assistants at Temple University strike in Philadelphia on Feb. 23. (Matt Rourke/AP)
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Teaching and research assistants at Temple University have approved a four-year contract following more than a year of negotiations with the administration and a six-week strike.

The strike drew headlines last month when the public university in Philadelphia withdrew tuition assistance and health care for more than a hundred graduate students who were on the picket line. Under the new deal, those benefits have been restored.

The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association voted 344-8 to ratify the contract on Monday, days after reaching a tentative agreement with the university and weeks after members rejected a previous proposal. The union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents about 750 graduate teaching and research assistants.

“We did something we should all be proud of,” said Matthew Ford, 36, a lead negotiator for the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association. “We were in a really tough battle with the university, which retaliated in unprecedented ways, but our people stayed out there and the strike grew.”

Temple University withholds tuition assistance from striking grad students

The contract will up the minimum pay for most graduate students from the current $20,700 average to $24,000 in the first year of the deal and to $27,000 by the fourth, a 30 percent increase over the life of the contract. Other graduate students on the lower end of the wage scale will see a pay bump closer to 40 percent. The deal also eliminates a tiered wage system based on disciplines, creating more pay equity, said Ford, a PhD candidate in sociology at Temple.

Temple has also agreed to cover 25 percent of health insurance premiums for graduate student workers’ dependents, and provide 21 days of parental leave and four days of paid bereavement leave. Graduate students will also receive a $500 one-time bonus.

In a statement, Temple President Jason Wingard said he was pleased the university and union reached an agreement that reflects the union’s priorities and Temple’s respect for its graduate students.

“Over the past six weeks, Temple demonstrated remarkable resilience. Perseverance conquers, and [the] agreement is evidence of our collective willingness to unite and advance,” Wingard said. “I extend thanks to all those involved in the negotiating process and who ensured continuity of education during this challenging time. I am grateful for the progress we made together.”

Graduate students took to the picket lines on Jan. 31, after reaching an impasse with the administration. The union wanted to raise the average pay for teaching and research assistants to over $32,000, up from an average of $19,500. But Temple offered to lift the average wage to about $22,000 by 2026, noting that graduate assistants only work 20 hours a week.

The situation came to a head last month when the university halted health care and tuition assistance for striking graduate students. Temple had warned that walking off the job would put graduate students’ tuition coverage and compensation at risk.

The university said Pennsylvania law prohibits the public institution from paying workers who refuse to work, and tuition remission, a benefit worth up to $20,000, is considered compensation. Union leaders argued that withholding tuition and other benefits was a choice.

In light of the agreement, the university will retroactively restore tuition assistance to the beginning of the semester. Temple reinstated health-care coverage last week.