Temple University Ends Healthcare, Tuition Benefits for Striking Grad Students

Members of the Temple University Graduate Students' Association accused the university of retaliating against students who have been on strike since Jan. 31.
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  • Striking students have been told they must pay their full tuition by March 9 or face late fees and registration blocks.
  • The union is asking for increased wages, healthcare for dependents and families, longer parental and bereavement leave, and better working conditions.
  • The past president of the graduate union said Temple students found out they no longer had university healthcare at the pharmacy and doctor's appointments.
  • Temple said that union members received two written notices of benefit removal and that benefits can be reinstated after going back to work.

Temple University is ending tuition and healthcare benefits for striking graduate students.

The public Philadelphia university this week notified striking graduate students in the Temple University Graduate Students' Association that their tuition remission had been removed. Those students must pay their balance in full by March 9 or face a $100 late payment fee and registration hold.

Tuition remission is when a university pays for part or full tuition for students.

"Describing tuition remission as a feature of our compensation package is dishonest because it isn't a cash benefit for TAs (teaching assistants) and RAs (research assistants); it's simply a process of shuffling money in a way where none of it ever actually leaves Temple's wallet," the union leaders said in a Feb. 8 letter published in The Temple News, an independent student newspaper.

The union addressed Temple's moves at a Feb. 9 press conference in front of the university bell tower.

"Employers threatening to cut benefits during a strike is not uncommon, but following through with it is," said Bethany Kosmicki, past president of the union. "We believe that the way Temple chose to cut off our benefits was in retaliation for participating in our right to strike and are pursuing a challenge to it."

She said that starting last week, Temple began deactivating students' health insurance plans without notifying them that their plans were being immediately terminated. Union members discovered this at doctor visits and at the pharmacy.

She said the community was infuriated that Temple is putting all the time and energy into punitive measures against the union instead of toward a contract.

The union represents nearly 750 graduate teaching assistants and research assistants at Temple. The organization first voted to authorize a strike in November 2022, with over 99% in favor.

The union said after months of bargaining with the university to no concessions, they were forced to strike.

The strike didn't commence until Jan. 31, when union members began picketing on campus between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. On Feb. 6, the union called for undergrads to support their cause by meeting at noon daily at the campus bell tower.

"For over a year, our union has been trying to work with the administration to negotiate a living wage, better benefits, and improved working conditions," said Kosmicki, who is now a member of the negotiation team, in a Jan. 31 press release. "Temple's administration has repeatedly ignored our demands, refusing us fair pay, affordable dependent healthcare, and increased parental leave."

The union says it wants Temple University to pay graduate employees a living wage, pointing out that the University of Pennsylvania has adjusted for the cost of living, and they propose changing their salary from $19,500 a year to $32,800.

The union also wants Temple to provide healthcare for dependents and families, longer parental and bereavement leave, and better working conditions.

In a statement to BestColleges, Temple said it was acting in accordance with Pennsylvania law.

"We know there is concern that TUGSA members who are not performing their duties have lost their benefits," Temple told BestColleges. "However, it is important to remember that in accordance with Pennsylvania law, those TUGSA members who have chosen not to work and are on strike are no longer entitled to compensation and work-related benefits, including tuition remission."

Temple said that the union members received two written notices that if they did not show up to work they would lose their full compensation package and that any members who want to return to work can get their benefits restored after reaching out to their school/college.

"Returning to work does not mean individuals cannot picket or voice their concerns," Temple told BestColleges. "It just means they must work to earn compensation and benefits, like anyone else."