Temple University is eliminating free tuition for graduate students who participate in a strike.
One student shared an email from the school that gave her one month to pay a semester's tuition.
In a statement, Temple confirmed students will be denied tuition benefits "while they are on strike."
Temple University, a public school in Philadelphia with roughly 40,000 students, confirmed Wednesday that teaching and research assistants who take part in a strike over low pay will have their health coverage suspended and be forced to cover the full cost of tuition, a move that's being condemned as unjust retaliation by union organizers and local officials.
Graduate students who work as TAs and RAs at Temple - teaching classes, grading papers, and supporting scientific endeavors - have been on strike since Jan. 31, accusing the school of paying wages that are not enough to cover the cost of living.
On average, such workers make $19,500 a year, according to the Temple University Graduate Students' Association (TUGSA), a union that represents nearly 750 affected workers. In recent negotiations, the university had proposed increasing base pay to $22,500 by 2026.
The strike comes after nearly 50,000 graduate students employed at University of California campuses engaged in a six-week work stoppage last year that resulted in a new contract, raising workers' minimum pay from just over $23,000 to more than $34,000, starting in 2025.
Temple is dealing with its own strike in harsher terms.
Stephen Orbanek, director of communications at the university, told Insider that those who choose to participate in the grad-student strike will be denied not just their pay but their tuition benefits. A majority of Temple's graduate student employees have kept working, according to the school.
"TUGSA 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," Orbanek said in a statement. "Because striking workers are not entitled to tuition remission, they have been notified of their obligation to make arrangements to pay their tuition, consistent with how the university treats other students who have unpaid tuition obligations."
Madison Ingram, a PhD student studying history at Temple, on Wednesday posted an email on Twitter that she said she received from the school giving her just one month to pay tuition for the spring semester or incur a $100 late payment fee. Temple says its annual tuition benefit is valued at $20,000.
"As a result of your participation in the TUGSA strike, your tuition remission has been removed for the spring semester," the email states.
Temple also confirmed that striking workers will no longer receive health insurance.
"The subsidy of their student health care coverage is a benefit of employment," Orbanek said. "As they are not working, that subsidy has stopped."
Students struggle to make ends meet
Temple is not the first institution to cancel health benefits for striking employees. In 2019, General Motors suspended health coverage for some 48,000 workers, reversing the decision a week later following a public backlash.
Manasa Gopakumar, a PhD candidate in philosophy at Temple, said she is disappointed by her school's reaction to the strike.
"This doesn't come as a surprise, but we are appalled," she said in an interview. The decision to not just cut tuition benefits but health coverage, she said, "is extremely unconscionable."
Gopakumar, a member of her union's negotiating committee, said student workers are struggling to pay for room and board while also focusing on their studies. As a graduate TA, she is responsible for teaching her own class, a job that she said can exceed the 20 hours a week for which Temple provides pay, resulting in people like her effectively working for free. She would like to see working conditions improved and wages increased to $32,000 a year.
"We think our demands are absolutely reasonable," she said. "Temple's off of a 3% raise to our base salary is just not enough for us to make a living in Philadelphia."
State and local politicians, meanwhile, have roundly condemned the university.
"Utterly reprehensible," state Sen. Nikil Saval, a Democrat, wrote Wednesday on social media. "Beneath contempt," added Democratic state Rep. Chris Rabb.
US Sen. John Fetterman, a Democrat elected last fall, has also expressed support for the striking workers. "It's long past time for Temple to come to the table [and] provide these workers with a good contract, fair pay, and better benefits," he said earlier this month.
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