TUGSA holds rally amid contract negotiations

The negotiation deadline for a new four-year contract expired on Feb. 15.

Undergraduate students hold signs at rally on Wednesday in support of Temple University Graduate Students' Association's contract negotiations. | LINDSAY BOWEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association rallied at the Bell Tower on Wednesday to reinforce its demands for its 2018-22 contract negotiations.

For its upcoming contract, TUGSA is demanding equal pay for graduate students, regardless of what they teach and continued health care coverage for graduate students’ dependents.

The deadline for a new four-year contract was Feb. 15, but TUGSA and the university’s negotiation teams could not come to an agreement. TUGSA’s 2014-18 contract will stay in place until a new contract is signed.

Multiple students spoke to a crowd of about 30 people expressing their support for TUGSA and why graduate students who often work as research or teaching assistants are important to the university. Organizations including Temple’s Young Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Students of Temple University also rallied in support of TUGSA.

TUGSA representatives handed out “I love my TA” stickers and buttons to students who passed by the rally. Undergraduate members of Temple’s Young Democratic Socialists held signs that read “Temple made by TAs” and “Undergraduate tuition: $35,000, TA salary: $17,000. Do the math.”

Evan Kassof, a second-year music composition Ph.D. candidate and member of TUGSA’s contract negotiation team, spoke to the crowd about the state of the 2018-22 contract negotiations and what graduate students go through as employees of the university.

“Temple is an aspirational university,” Kassof said. “People come here to get better, and Temple is trying to get better. Do you know what it takes to get better? It takes a strong, graduate student body. It takes graduate students who are doing good research and work teaching their undergraduates. Without us, what is the university?”

The three-tier pay scale that supporters and TUGSA are protesting reflects the differences in market rates among the various disciplines at the university, wrote Director of Labor Relations Monica Washington in an email.

“This is the principle upon which the parties have agreed and negotiated the rates since the union’s inception 16 years ago,” Washington wrote. “Schools and colleges can, and in many cases do, pay above these rates when necessary to attract graduate students when market conditions demand.”

TUGSA president Ethan Ake-Little told The Temple News that the union held the rally in hopes of gaining visibility with undergraduate students and to send the university a message about their demands.

The union wants support, especially from undergraduate students, to help push its contract negotiations forward, said Matt Ford, a second year sociology graduate student and TUGSA’s director of community outreach.

“Undergraduates, to us, represent a large pool of power at the university,” Ford said. “They’re the customers, or clients, of the university.”

Graduate students hold one-third of the academic leadership at the university, Ford added.

“We feel very connected to our students, we’re very passionate about our jobs,” he added. “Quite frankly, we wouldn’t do it for so little money if we didn’t care about our students.”

Austin Binns, a senior political science major and president of the Young Democratic Socialists, gave a speech about how his teaching assistant helped him during the death of his father as a freshman.

“I’m here because our graduate students should be getting a fair wage and should be given excellent health care because honestly, they’re the fuel that makes our entire university run,” Binns said. “Without them, this entire university would come to a halt, and the administration is treating them terribly.”

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