Undergraduates Walk Out in Support of TUGSA

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WRITTEN BY: Sophia Levine and Jadon George

In the largest demonstration since Temple University Graduate Students’ Association launched its strike on Jan. 31, roughly 1,000 undergraduates rallied with TUGSA at Temple University’s Main Campus. According to organizers, TUGSA’s work stoppage is the first student workers’ strike in the history of Pennsylvania’s universities. 

The walkout began with a rally under the Bell Tower. Rally speakers included TUGSA-supporting undergraduates, members of the Socialist Alternative and Terrill Haigler, a.k.a. Ya Fav Trashman – a candidate for city council this spring. 

“We’ve seen their mansions, we’ve seen their salaries, we see how they spend your tuition dollars,” said Jesus Fernandez, a TUGSA member.  “TUGSA is getting a new contract. We are getting living wages for every single worker in this university.” 

Other speakers cast the rally’s size, which Temple’s director of public safety put at 1,000 people, as proof that the university’s undergraduates back TUGSA in the dispute. 

After the rally, participants marched from the Bell Tower onto Cecil B. Moore Avenue, forming a procession that made its way up the northbound lane of Broad Street, temporarily stopping traffic in both directions before leaving the street and coming to a stop in front of the university’s Sullivan Hall offices.  

Once back on campus, TUGSA’s supporters held an “open mic” event featuring undergraduate labor organizers, local members of the Socialist Alternative, and former city councilmember at large and Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym.  

For the past two weeks, the Temple University Graduate Student Association has been on strike over stipend amounts, working conditions, family leave, and medical leave.  

TUGSA says that neither the current stipend of $19,500 nor the university’s proposed annual increase of 3 percent for the next four years are enough to live on in Philadelphia. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator estimates the city’s cost of living at around $36,500 before taxes for a single adult with no children; TUGSA seeks to raise the stipend to $32,800. 

Since then, the university has leveled countermeasures against striking members, including ending tuition remission and canceling some TUGSA members’ health insurance plans. Although there are no provisions in federal or state law that prohibit employers from taking either step, the moves by Temple administrators drew broad condemnation from local politicians. 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner told the gathering last Tuesday that he and his office intend to make sure that the strikers’ constitutional rights are fully protected. TUGSA says it plans to file a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Billy Penn reported

In part due to the escalating actions between TUGSA and Temple’s leadership, what began in 2021 as an academic contract negotiation has now turned into a strike receiving national attention. Reporters at Newsweek, The Washington Post, USAToday, CBS News, POLITICO, Vice News, and Reuters have all dedicated airtime and page space to the strike. 

Besides Krasner and Gym, who has now rallied in support of the grad students twice since the strike began, elected officials at the local, state, and national levels have also attended rallies and issued statements in support of TUGSA.  

United States Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders showed his support for TUGSA in a tweet. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators, Democrats Bob Casey and John Fetterman also tweeted their support for the graduate student union. 

Last Thursday, city councilmember Isaiah Thomas proposed, and the rest of City Council passed, a resolution backing TUGSA’s efforts. On Tuesday, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, appeared at the bell tower and pledged to hold the administration accountable when the legislature considered Temple’s next request for funding. 

“Next time we hear you knocking on the doors in Harrisburg, it should be after you signed a contract agreement and treated the people out here on strike with dignity and respect,” Kenyatta, a Temple alum, said. 


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