Pan-Graduate School Unionization

Brief Overview

  • Pan-Graduate school unionization ignores the disparity in needs and wants across schools
  • GET-UP is unilaterally deciding who they want to represent, without our input on whether we want their represention or their form of a union. Please sign our petition!
  • Small schools will not be able to have their concerns adequately addressed
  • GET-UP has not demonstrated that it can effectively bargain/represent over 3000 PhD students across 12 schools.

In-depth Overview

One of our core beliefs is that unions play an incredibly important role in protecting workers rights when the employer can’t or refuses to do so. However, in order to be effective, a union must be effective at addressing worker’s concerns and grievances. Therefore unions limit themselves in who they represent, as trying to represent disparate employees reduces their ability to address group-specific needs, especially when those issues might cause conflict between the groups.

While we all are graduate students, our programs and schools have completely different requirements, graduation times, and needs. Some schools have a TA requirement, while others do not. Some students do research in lab, while others do their research at home, in library, or at a archaeological site in the Mediterranean. By lumping all graduate students together, GET-UP is assuming the following:

  • All graduate schools want their representation

  • GET-UP assumes that it can effectively address the different needs of graduate students across 12 schools and approximately 100+ programs

Issue #1: All graduate schools want their representation

GET-UP is unilaterally grouping schools into their prospective union without consulting whether the school wants their representation. The union frequently cites that it is “democratic”, yet is not allowing input on whether programs or schools want to a part of GET-UP.  For example, a school that is 90% opposed, but only contains 100 people will be drowned out by a 1000 person school that wants unionization. We are not opposed to any school wanting to unionization, we simply believe that every school should be able to determine whether or not unionization would be beneficial.

The Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) student government recently released a survey that indicated nearly 75% of respondents do not want to be part of GET-UP. Self-determination is an important part of democracy, and GET-UP should determine which schools want their representation and which do not.

BGSA survey

Used with permission 4/8/17

We fully support the right for other schools and programs to unionize, but a unilateral pan-graduate school union drowns out the voices of schools that do not want a union. We are collecting signatures of graduate students to help give a voice to those schools who are against unionization and do not want to be included. Please sign our petition!

Issue #2: GET-UP assumes that it can effectively address the different needs of graduate students across 12 schools and approximately 100+ programs

Many times GET-UP states that it can accurately bargain for each of Penn’s twelve schools. When pressed for details, GET-UP simply states that they can write a separate contract for each school. While this proposal sounds good in theory, it has several key problems that prevent it from being feasible. First, contract negotiations typically takes 8-12 months. If GET-UP tries to get a separate contract or clause for each school, that will dramatically increase negotiation time. It is important to remember that during contract negotiations that Penn is prevented by law to make unilateral changes to employment condition, i.e. our stipends. If negotiations take a year or more, our stipends and our benefits could be negatively affected.

Secondly, GET-UP has not stated what issues they will prioritize or how they will determine what issues to prioritize. Every organization has it limits on what it can achieve, and how much time and resources it can dedicate to certain issues. It is simply realistic to expect that GET-UP will have to prioritize certain issues over others. What is concerning though is that GET-UP has not prepared for this eventuality, which could cause tension between programs, each of which believes their issues are most important.

Thirdly, how will GET-UP handle a situation in which one program wants a clause or benefit, but which would negatively impact another school? For example, say Program A wants limits on time spent doing research whereas Program B believes that would negatively affect their education. Looking over GET-UP’s constitution reveals that they have not considered this possibility and have no methods for addressing potential conflicts between programs.

Unions based around a single school or program would be much more effective at addressing concerns, and we fully support those that want a program-specific union to address their issues.