Temple University has withdrawn tuition assistance and benefits for some graduate students who have been participating in an open-ended labor strike on the Philadelphia campus, according to emails received by many of those students this week. 

After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the university, the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) Local 6290, a union representing 750 graduate students and research assistants, went on strike Jan 31.  

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this marked the first strike in the union’s two-decade history. 

Students took to social media to share emails and account notices which they received this week informing them that they had a balance due, and that their health benefits have been put on pause. 

One Ph.D. candidate, Franciso Villa Jr., tweeted that he “woke up” Wednesday “to see not only my tuition remission taken away but also money taken from the grant to cover tuition.”

Madison Ingram, another Ph.D. candidate and member of the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association, mockingly tweeted “Lol ‘for my convenience'” in response to an email from the university that informed her that due to her participation in the strike, she was now required to pay the total balance of her tuition, or face a $100 late fee. She would be unable to register for classes if she failed to pay, the email said. 

In a statement to CBS News Thursday, Temple University said that negotiations with members of the union are ongoing, and that more than 80% of TUGSA’s members currently remain on the job. Those who don’t, the university said, are not meeting the demands of their contract.

“In accordance with Pennsylvania law, those 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,” the statement read. “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.”

The students’ tweets have garnered the attention of some lawmakers, including Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. 

Last week, Fetterman tweeted in support of the strike, saying “I proudly stand in solidarity with @TUGSA_6290 workers on strike. The union way of life is sacred. It’s long past time for Temple to come to the table & provide these workers with a good contract, fair pay, and better benefits.”  

He followed up with another tweet Wednesday regarding the revokation of tuition and benefits, writing, “Appalling that Temple would retaliate against @TUGSA_6290 workers for pushing for better benefits and working conditions.” 

On Thursday, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner came to campus and showed his support for the picketing students, according to CBS Philadelphia

Author Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of media studies and urban education at Temple University, called on the university to “end this punitive approach and reach a settlement with graduate students by making a fair offer without penalty.”

TUGSA is demanding a 50% increase in pay, better working conditions, healthcare coverage for dependents, and longer paid parental leave and bereavement leave. TUGSA members have been working without a contract since last February. 

In its strike campaign page, TUGSA alleges that the university administration has countered with a contract offer that would include average annual raises of just over 3% for the next four years, which would raise student pay to $22,500 by 2026. TUGSA alleges that the university has made “record profits” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and “received record-breaking amounts of philanthropic donations and government aid.” 

In a statement on its website Monday, the university said that “TUGSA members make an average salary of $25 an hour for a 20-hour work week in addition to free healthcare and tuition valued at $20,000. The union requested a 50% pay increase for its nine-month schedule, while Temple proposed an increase in line with increases provided to non-bargaining full-time employees and negotiated with full-time bargaining units.”