Temple, meet TUGSA’s demands

A student urges Temple to support teaching and research assistants by addressing their contract demands.

Allyson Tharp / The Temple News

On Oct. 11, the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association rallied at Charles Library regarding ongoing contract negotiations with Temple. Roughly 75 percent of teaching and research assistants were asked to perform unpaid labor, and low compensation has forced more than 90 percent to supplement their income through credit cards and loans, according to TUGSA.  

Bargaining sessions with Temple administration can take months or even more than a year, depending on how quickly they’re able to agree. TUGSA begins its thirteenth session of negotiations on Oct. 27, which can last anywhere from half an hour to most of the day. TUGSA outlined three essential needs: raises, respect and health care. 

TUGSA debuted its petition at the Oct. 11 rally, highlighting issues like eliminating international student fees, adequate parental and bereavement leave and manageable workload. The petition has gained approximately 800 signatures, said Matt Ford, TUGSA’s staff organizer.

Although negotiations began in January, Temple still isn’t providing TUGSA’s essential needs. Temple must support TUGSA by raising pay to $32,000 because graduate employees deserve livable wages for their dedication to the university.

Additional components of the agreement are being reviewed, like healthcare for dependents, Ford said.

TAs and RAs earn anywhere from roughly $17,700 to $20,800 annually depending on their department. The average graduate worker makes more than $19,000 per academic year, according to the 2021-22 Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

TUGSA is negotiating an increase of annual pay to $32,000 after using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator to determine Philadelphia’s livable wage, and roughly matched its demand to it, said Ford, a sociology TA and Ph.D. student.

Temple is willing to compromise on pay, but reaching an agreement on other demands seems unlikely, said Sharon Boyle, Temple’s vice president of human resources. 

“We’re anxious to reach a fair agreement with TUGSA and we’re looking forward to being able to do so as quickly as possible,” Boyle said. 

Professors rely on TAs and RAs to serve as liaisons by taking on tutoring and office hours, and assisting with leading recitations or labs. 

As outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, graduate workers are allotted a maximum of 20 hours of service per week. TUGSA is negotiating for graduate workers to have more control of their hours because many TAs and RAs feel they’ve been asked to perform unpaid labor. 

Most RA and TAs have strong connections with their students because they’re working with them in labs, office hours and recitation. Temple must recognize the impact grad workers have on undergraduates and properly compensate them for their efforts.

Eleanor Labriola, a junior neuroscience major, had a TA for her Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology recitation and lab. 

“As a TA, he’s excellent, he’s really good at breaking things down and using really fun metaphors and examples to explain difficult topics,” Labriola said. “So I think that makes him stand out to a lot of his students.”

However, unfair compensation and international student fees leave many grad workers struggling to get by, like Shourjendra Mukherjee, a TA and Ph.D. international student.

“The situation for me right now is kind of paycheck to paycheck,” Mukherjee said. “It’s become difficult, because after sending my money home and paying rent, and my bills and the essentials like groceries and stuff, I’m not left with anything to an extent.”  

Temple’s mission, vision and values recognize respect as a key value, the university appreciates the dignity and effort of every individual and acknowledges their contributions.

By increasing pay and meeting TUGSA on its essential contract needs, Temple would be recognizing the effort of their grad workers.

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