The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association rallied in front of Charles Library following the union officially announcing their strike Tuesday morning, two months after 99 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike on Nov. 11.
TUGSA began negotiating their contract last February and is advocating that teaching and research assistants be paid a living wage and that the university ensure they improve classrooms and provide longer parental leave.
TAs and RAs believe working and living conditions are inhibiting their work in teaching and research, said Manasa Gopakumar, a philosophy Ph.D. student and TUGSA’s former president
“Our working conditions are undergrad students’ learning conditions, so it affects everyone, it affects the university as a whole,” Gopakumar said.
After picketing around campus earlier today following the strike announcement, members of the union arrived at Charles Library around 2:15 p.m. where multiple graduate students and State Sen. Sharif Street spoke to roughly 100 protestors.
Evan Kassof, TUGSA’s office organizer, kicked off the rally by explaining that TUGSA is on strike because they aren’t being paid a living wage and urged undergraduate students to support them by joining them in picketing.
Temple has offered three percent annual pay increases for four years and one-time payments of up to $500, as well as to double the parental leave, provide additional bereavement and provide healthcare benefits coverage, wrote provost Gregory Mandel, and Ken Kaiser, chief operating officer, in an email to students Tuesday.
“If we all work together, we can shut this place down,” Kassof said. “We can get what we need, we can get what we deserve and actually make this place a world-class institution.”
As protesters cheered for Kassof, Sen. Street spoke to the crowd in support of TUGSA. He highlighted the need for increased pay due to high inflation, arguing that if living expenses cost more, then graduate students should be paid more.
“Temple works because you do,” Street said. “You do the research. You teach the classes. You’re the reason that this institution works. You’re the drivers of the academy. You’re what creates the experience for the students, and you need to be respected, and the way you show respect is in your paycheck.”
Street then initiated a “respect is in my check” chant, with protestors echoing his chants.
Following Street’s speech, TUGSA representatives, including vice president Laura Waters and staff organizer Matt Ford, led the rally by giving speeches.
After arguing that Temple has enough money in its budget and revenue to accommodate TUGSA’s demands, speakers continued advocating that TAs and RAs contribute heavily to the function of the university.
“When the quality of education goes down, the reputation of Temple goes down and the value of the degrees that you’re getting goes down,” Ford said.
Kassof ended the rally shortly after Ford spoke and redirected the protestors to picket in front of Sullivan Hall, where the Temple’s Board of Trustees was set to meet.
More than 100 protestors then proceeded to shout chants like, “hey hey, ho ho, Temple greed has got to go,” and, “What’s disgusting? Union busting.”
“We really hope that the picketing and the events like this rally and similar actions can really make people aware, raise awareness about what we’re doing and get people to join us on the picket line,” Ford said.
Undergraduate students also joined graduate protesters today to show support for their TAs and RAs.
“I really just am a junkie for unions,” said Ava Grassi, a freshman computer science major. “I did it to support my TAs.”
TUGSA continued to picket until around 4 p.m. today and plans to continue throughout the week, with another rally scheduled for Thursday.
“We’re going to be out here until we get it,” Kassof said.