Pan-Graduate School Unionization

Quick Facts

In-depth Overview

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 require TAing, 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 unilaterally grouped schools into their prospective union without consulting whether the school wants their representation in the first place. The union frequently cites that it is “democratic”, yet has ignored requests from schools to exclude themselves. Over 50% of BGS has signed our petition against unionization, but GET-UP has yet to explain why they are forcing BGS into their union.

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 choose for themselves.

The Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) and Wharton PhD student government recently released a survey that indicated that the vast majority of students did not want to be represented by GET-UP. Self-determination is an important part of democracy, and GET-UP should respect that some schools do not want their representation.

BGS Unionization Survey

BGSA survey

Used with permission 4/8/17

Wharton PhD Unionization Survey

Wharton Unionization

Used with permission 5/24/17

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.

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 8-14 months. If GET-UP tries to get a separate contract/clause for each school, it 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.

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.