PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The labor union representing around 750 graduate teaching assistants (TA) and research assistants (RA) at Temple University went on strike Tuesday morning.
"Temple has left us no choice but to call a strike at this point," said Manasa Gopakumar, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and past president of Temple University Graduate Students' Association.
TUGSA members say that for more than a year, the union has tried to negotiate with the administration for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions.
"The average graduate worker here at Temple makes $19,500 a year, which is well below the living wage in Philadelphia. We need to be able to have a wage that pays us to live in the city where we work," said Bethany Kosmicki, an RA and past president of TUGSA.
These graduate students say TAs and RAs are a core function of the university, conducting world-class research and teaching courses.
"A lot of introductory classes and gen-eds and intellectual heritage classes are taught by graduate students," said Gopakumar, who teaches a full class in her role as an instructor of record.
She added, "A lot of faculty rely on TAs for grading large classes."
The university has plans in place to try to minimize any interruption.
Temple released a statement reading in part, "After almost a year of negotiations, TUGSA continues to demand 50% pay increases, increases in free health coverage and other benefits not available to even full-time employees."
The school also states the students receive free graduate-level tuition, worth about $20,000 annually.
A Temple spokesperson also wrote, "We are hopeful that we can continue working with TUGSA to reach an agreement that benefits all parties in the near future."
Students passed by, accepting flyers on their way to class.
"If I didn't have class, I'd be out with them right now," said sophomore Jocelyn Hockaday.
"I feel like it's up to them. Whatever it takes to get the job done- if that's what it takes, then I'm all for it," said senior Mike Hamilton.