Is your group funded by the University of Pennsylvania or any outside group?

No, unlike GET-UP/AFT/AFL-CIO, which receives assistance from their parent unions, we are paying for all of this out of pocket (web hosting, paper for flyers, etc). Since we are grad students, any volunteer help would be greatly appreciated! Feel free to email us or follow us on Facebook!

If I vote NO in the election, do I still have to pay dues?

Yes. Even if you disagree with the union and/or its mission, you still have to pay dues for their representation. GET-UP has not released exactly how much their union fee will be; however, they state that their dues could be up to $700 per year (2% of annual income).

If a student takes five years to graduate, he or she could end up paying $3500 in just union dues.

Are there any other graduate school unions in the US? Why do you limit your comparisons to only the NYU and Temple unions? 

There are 33 graduate student unions in the US, however the only private university with a contract is NYU. Unlike Penn, public universities are governed by their state’s union laws, any several states allow unionization at universities. Since Penn is private, we fall under the federal authority of the NLRB. State labor laws vary widely across the US, and limit public unions on what they can bargain for, how much their dues can be, strikes, etc. This difference in labor laws makes it difficult to make accurate comparisons between public and private universities as the different laws can affect what can and can not be in a contract.

Since NYU is the only private university with a contract, we use their union as the primary example. While Temple is a public university (and under PA, not federal law), we use their union as a limited example in a few cases, as TUGSA and GET-UP are both affiliated with AFT-PA. The common affiliation provides insights into how AFT-PA organizes and supports graduate student unions.

How would the relationship between students, faculty, and administration change under the union?

Contrary to what GET-UP claims, unionization will not be able assist students in resolving academic disputes involving their mentor and/or thesis committee. As disagreements between mentors and students are strictly academic, the union would be unable to intervene, as the matter does not relate to employment.

GET-UP and other student unions tend to reference this study by Rogers et. al. While the study claims that unionization has a positive benefit on graduate students’ relationships with their mentors, the paper’s conclusions are overstated. First, the authors only interviewed a total of 400 students from five programs (Business, Computer Science, English, History, and Psychology). Secondly, the study was conducted at public universities that are subject to different union laws (state laws vs federal laws) than a private university like Penn. Most importantly, there were only 5 out of 29 questions (such as “My advisor is a role model for me” scored on a scale from 1 to 5) that showed statistical significance at p ≤ 0.05. The differences between the union and non-union answers were very minor (average difference on a 1 to 5 scale being 0.206). The study also showed that the difference in stipends did not differ once other factors were taken into account. A similar organization to ours at Duke provides a detailed analysis.

Currently, students can talk directly to their program director or dean without the need to go through a third party. If GET-UP succeeds, most matters would have to be directed through the union and the administration will be unable to address issues directly with the students. In fact, a union representative will most likely need to be present at all meetings between the administration and a student. This is a particular concern, especially if the problem is sensitive in nature.

Very little research has been done on the effect of unionization of graduate students, and more research is definitely needed before any conclusions are drawn.

What stage is GET-UP currently at in regards to their steps toward unionization?

GET-UP has filed for election. At this time, GET-UP has included and TAs and researchers in the Annenburg School of Communication, Biomedical Graduate Studies, School of Design, Graduate School of Education, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing and School of Social Policy and Practice. In order to give themselves the highest chance of winning the election, they are gerrymandered the bargaining unit and excluded Wharton and SEAS. You can read the details here.

At this point, the NLRB will determine if GET-UP’s proposed bargaining unit is appropriate and schedule an election. At this point no election has been scheduled.

We believe that each school should determine whether unionization suits their needs and concerns. However, the proposed pan-graduate school union would result in some schools that are opposed to unionization being forced to take part. Similarly, if GET-UP loses the election, those schools that might want a union would not be able to have one. The microunion model at Yale is an attractive alternative to GET-UP’s pan-graduate school union plan.

What would happen to GAPSA and other student government organizations if unionization is successful?

GET-UP is quite vague about what will happen to our student government bodies. The union makes an ambiguous statement on their website that our organizations will have to be “redesigned” to fit their needs (see below).


We believe that unionization will concentrate the power into the hands of the union and leave out smaller schools that do not have a large voice. GAPSA and our G-12 governments are already democratically elected to serve each school’s needs and their roles should not be diminished.

What are GET-UP’s demands/goals?

GET-UP has recently released a general overview of the issues they believe are important. However, the union has been frustratingly unclear on how a union will exactly solve these important issues. They have not proposed detailed solutions, and many issues they talk about are either not under the University’s control (such as funding), or we already have systems in place that are better than what unions at other schools have gotten (See On the Issues). GET-UP has mentioned that they want a formal grievance system in place; however, Penn already has one (please see here).

They claim that they cannot be specific until we vote to join the union. We believe that it is misleading to ask us to join an organization that will not release detailed plans until we have irreversibly accepted their representation.

How would I voice my opposition/support to an issue within the union?

If the unionization campaign succeeds, all members of the bargaining group will have to approve the contract with Penn. However, since the bargaining group includes Masters,  Ph.D, and potentially even undergraduate students from every school, the needs and issues of the smaller schools might not be heard. Right now, each school has its own student government where students can petition. Unionization would drastically reduce the ability for smaller schools to fight for issues that matter to them as the needs of a smaller school could be overshadowed by the needs of a larger schools.