Graduate student workers on strike at a prominent Pennsylvania university are expressing outrage after the school cut off their benefits and sent them a bill.
The Temple University Graduate Students Association (TUGSA), whose workers have been on strike for two weeks looking for a new labor agreement from the school, said that graduate students received an email Wednesday saying their tuition reimbursement benefit has been cut off, CBS Philadelphia reported.
“As a result of your participation in the TUGSA strike, your tuition remission has been removed for the spring semester,” the email to students said. “You now owe the full balance listed in TUpay, which is due by Thursday, March 9.”
“If your balance is not paid-in-full by the due date, you will be assessed a $100 late payment fee and a financial hold will be placed on your student account. This hold will prevent future registration.”
The move drew immediate criticism from political pundits and the striking students, who say they have been working without a contract for a year and are demanding a pay raise.
“Wow,” Temple University professor and BET News host Marc Lamont Hill posted on Twitter in response to an upset student.
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I call on Temple University to end this punitive approach and reach a settlement with graduate students by making a fair offer without penalty.”
In a statement to Fox News Digital, the school defended its actions and made the case that the move to stop the tuition assistance was legally sound.
“We know there is concern that TUGSA members who are not performing their duties have lost their benefits,” the school said. “However, it is important to remember that in accordance with Pennsylvania law, those TUGSA members who have chosen not to work and are on strike are no longer entitled to compensation and work-related benefits, including tuition remission.”
“Without those benefits, they will be treated the same as every other enrolled student.”
The statement added that the school “values” the work of its employees but cannot make concessions that “would be economically unreasonable.”
“On the contrary, Temple has settled contracts with two bargaining units in the past six months representing thousands of workers without controversy and through communication and engagement with those bargaining units,” the statement said.
The university said that it is hopeful the issue will be resolved with the part-time workers and expects to resume negotiations on Friday.
“We currently make about $19,500 per year,” Manasa Gopakumar a former TUGSA president, told CBS Philadelphia. “Whereas the cost of living in Philadelphia is $38,000.”
“My struggle to make ends meet in this city,” Bethany Kosmicki, also a former TUGSA president, told the outlet. “I have to pay rent. I have to pay my bills. I have to pay groceries, medical bills. I can’t afford to do that on the current wages that I make at Temple University.”
In the statement to Fox News Digital, the school pointed out that TUGSA members were given two written notices that their benefits would be lost if they missed work and explained that any member who wants their benefits reinstated is free to return to work.
“Returning to work does not mean individuals cannot picket or voice their concerns. It just means they must work to earn compensation and benefits, like anyone else.”