TUGSA speaks out after Temple withdraws benefits

The university sent an email to union members Wednesday notifying them that their full tuition balance would be due on March 9.

TUGSA members participating in the strike received an email Wednesday from the Bursar’s Office notifying them that they now owe their full balance. | EARL KUFEN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Temple University Graduate Students’ Association held a press conference at the Bell Tower today after the university notified striking members Wednesday that they would no longer receive tuition remission and other benefits for the spring semester.

“Employers threatening to cut benefits during a strike is not uncommon, but following through with it is,” said Bethany Kosmicki, a research assistant in the sociology department and a former TUGSA president who is currently on the contract negotiations team.

“We believe that the way Temple chose to cut off our benefits was in retaliation for participating in our right to strike and are pursuing a challenge to it,” Kosmicki said.

TUGSA members participating in the strike received an email Wednesday from the Bursar’s Office notifying them that they now owe their full balance. If members’ balance is not paid in full by March 9, a $100 late payment fee will be assessed and a financial hold will be placed on their account, according to the email.

Kosmicki and other union leaders said that Temple began deactivating strikers’ health insurance plans without notifying them that their plans were being immediately terminated, resulting in some members finding out they weren’t insured at pharmacies or doctor’s offices. 

“I received a message from Rite Aid saying that my prescription was ready to be picked up, but when I got there, I was told that my health insurance was no longer valid,” said Yusuf Qwareeq, a first year PhD student in the College of Science and Technology and a TA. “Temple had cut my health insurance plan without any notice.”

The university has said that in accordance with Pennsylvania law, members who have chosen not to work and are on strike are no longer entitled to their compensation and work-related benefits, which include tuition remission.

TUGSA members received two written notices that failure to show up to work would result in the loss of their full compensation package, wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in a statement to The Temple News.

Temple believes that 120 people, mostly from the College of Liberal Arts, are on strike and that approximately 550 TUGSA members are continuing to work and receive full pay and benefits. Any members who choose to return to work will have their benefits restored immediately, Orbanek added.

Matt Ford, TUGSA’s staff organizer and lead negotiator, told The Temple News that the number of striking workers is higher than the university is reporting. He believes the actual percentage of striking workers is double that of the university’s 17 percent estimate with numbers growing everyday.

Even though a majority of members are reporting to work and refusing to strike, TUGSA has not given its members a chance to vote on the university’s offer, Orbanek wrote.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, State Rep. Rick Krajewski, and State Sen. Sharif Street also appeared at the press conference.

“We intend to make sure that the constitutional rights of all people are fully protected, that their legal rights are fully protected and we support you 100 percent in your efforts to get this administration to be fair to you,” Krasner said.

In an email Wednesday night, Provost Gregory Mandel warned students about messages urging them to skip classes or assignments to participate in a walkout. These actions could jeopardize students’ academic progress, Mandel wrote.

“We want you to know that striking TUGSA members have no authority to cancel classes or make any promises regarding your attendance, grades or any other matter related to courses they are no longer teaching,” he wrote.

The administration and TUGSA met on Wednesday with a new mediator to discuss a path forward, but a new date for negotiations has not been finalized, Ford said.

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