Former Philadelphia Council member and mayoral candidate Helen Gym showed her support for the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association on Main Campus today at the union’s second rally since announcing a strike Tuesday.
Gym spoke at the Bell Tower and urged the crowd of picketers, union members and undergraduate students to stay strong in what she described as a long fight. TUGSA is striking for higher wages, longer parental leave, and classroom improvements. The union voted to authorize a strike on Nov. 11.
“I want everyone to know that the eyes of the nation are on Temple University and all of you today,” Gym said. “What you are doing here on this campus is making a statement to the entire country that graduate students, adjuncts and all others who make universities work deserve a fair contract, a living wage and decent benefits that are deserving of any university that claims to be world class.”
On Wednesday, United States Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders voiced his support for the union in a tweet.
“If Temple can afford to pay its football coach $2 million per year, it can afford to pay its grad student workers a living wage and decent benefits,” Sanders wrote.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined Gym in rallying the crowd of more than 100. AFT is the nation’s second largest teaching union, and represents 1.7 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates, according to its website.
“I don’t just bring greetings from your 1.7 million colleagues,” Weingarten said. “I bring righteous support. And what we’re gonna do in the next day or two, there’s gonna be an email from me to every one of our members to say this is what’s going on in Philly, and I need you to help support.”
State Senator Nikil Saval and State Representative Mary Isaacson also gave speeches of support at the rally, which ended with picketers gathering at Polett Walk toward Sullivan Hall to continue their protest.
TUGSA delivered a letter to President Jason Wingard in Sullivan Hall Wednesday, demanding Temple to return to negotiations to strike a fair contract with the union, said Bethany Kosmicki, a research assistant in the sociology department, and a former TUGSA president who is currently on the contract negotiations team.
Kosmicki and Matt Ford, TUGSA’s staff organizer and lead negotiator, said that the university has threatened to cut off benefits for union members, but they do not exactly know when that would happen.
“We have hundreds of members who are ready to do this for the long haul,” said Ford. “In terms of the exact numbers I’m not sure, but one thing I can tell you is that there are more TUGSA people on strike today than there were on Tuesday when we started,” he added.
The university informed all TUGSA members within the past month that if they chose to strike, they would lose pay, benefits and tuition remission in accordance with Pennsylvania law, wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in a statement.
“We support our students’ rights to peacefully protest, but we are also mindful of our obligation as a steward of public funds and student tuition dollars that university resources are being used to fulfill its academic mission to educate students,” Orbanek wrote
Councilmember at-large Isaiah Thomas said that Temple’s failure to reach an equitable resolution with TUGSA is highly upsetting and urged the university to come to an agreement with the union.
“These graduate student workers provide an invaluable service to the university and, most importantly, to the students who are proud to call Temple their home,” Thomas wrote in a statement to The Temple News. “I am calling on the university to work with TUGSA in a manner that indicates they actually respect and value the work they do, which starts with a livable wage, health and leave benefits, and better working conditions.”