On Feb 8, Temple University Graduate Students’ Association, noticed their health insurance was deactivated.
“People found it particularly cruel that the council would cut the benefits of people who have gone on strike because they’re already in a tough financial position,” said Bethany Kosmicki, a research assistant in the sociology department and member of the contract negotiations team.
The university warned that benefits could be cut amidst a strike, but they didn’t issue a warning when they were actually deactivated, Kosmicki said.
On Feb. 9, striking TUGSA members received an email from the Bursar’s Office stating their full tuition would be due on March 9. Failure to pay will result in a $100 late fee and a hold placed on their account.
Temple has the ability to continue providing benefits for striking workers but deliberately chose to cut them. Any U.S. adult that doesn’t have qualifying health insurance must pay a fee under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, TUGSA members are already fighting for basic needs; they shouldn’t have their tuition remission and healthcare benefits revoked in the process.
For nearly a month, TUGSA has striked for a base-wage pay of $32,800, healthcare for dependents and families, extended parental and bereavement leave and improved working conditions, according to TUGSA.
Employers in Pennsylvania are legally allowed to pay striking workers, but also have the right to cut benefits, according to Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Relations Act.
In response to Temple’s cut of benefits and tuition remission, TUGSA’s unfair labor practice complaint to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board is now pending after being filed roughly two weeks ago, Kosmicki said.
“Without those benefits, they will be treated the same as every other enrolled student,” wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in an email to The Temple News.
The penalty for not having qualifying health insurance is $95 per adult or one percent of taxable income, whichever is higher, according to the Affordable Care Act. Due to Temple removing benefits, striking members could be subject to the fine as they no longer have qualifying coverage.
Any U.S. citizen that doesn’t have qualifying healthcare will be penalized with the fee. The consequence for not having health insurance doesn’t fall on Temple, it falls on striking graduate workers.
From the beginning of the strike, Temple wasn’t obligated to cut health and tuition benefits, and TUGSA considered the decision unprecedented for graduate student programs, Kosmicki said.
The current pay of a Temple graduate worker, which is on average more than $19,000 per academic year, won’t be sufficient enough to cover health insurance expenses if a graduate worker is striking.
“The pay is just entirely inadequate for what is being asked of TAs and RAs but also just for living in Philadelphia, going to a school that makes a ton of money, and that sort of thing,” said Matt Ford, TUGSA’s lead negotiator.
The average person spends roughly $12,914 on health care expenditures per year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
It’s essential that Temple reinstates striking workers benefits because they’re unable to utilize their health insurance, and will be forced to pay out of pocket for essential health care needs.
Any student that wants to study in the U.S. requires a student visa and to receive a visa the student must be enrolled full-time and must have sufficient funds available for the course, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
TUGSA is still bargaining for a contract that meets their basic needs, taking away their benefits further inhibits them from affording essentials.
The price of health care without insurance is impossible to afford for many graduate students, and international students without tuition remission could be forced to leave the country. Failure to support the union’s right to strike and restore their benefits would be a violation of basic workers’ rights and a neglect of Temple.
Sofia Bezila contributed reporting.