The Academic Burden
Right now GET-UP’s representatives are canvasing the campus looking for support. There have been reports that some of these representatives are harassing students or otherwise interrupting research and work. These intrusive organizational activities would not stop after unionization and would most likely increase in frequency. Whenever there is a strike, contract renewal, or any issue pertaining to the union, GET-UP would continue their intrusive campaigning. If there is a strike, the union could protest outside your lab or classroom, preventing you from making progress on your degree. In addition, labor laws allow unions to legally fine members that break union bylaws and continue to work during a strike.
The Bureaucratic Burden
The union vows to limit our current student governments and shift to the union’s “democratic” alternative. Analysis of GET-UP’s constitution reveals that the union structure is highly undemocratic and has the potential to be controlled by a select few individuals. There is no mechanism that prevents large schools/programs from dominating leadership positions (see Section B: The Standing Committees and Article V: Elections), and smaller schools could simply be left out of any leadership role, including the contract negotiating committee. Quorum (a certain percentage of the body that is required to vote) is only required for “substantial” decisions, with little-to-no explanation on how to determine what is substantial (Section B: Decision Making). Without quorum, many decisions could simply be determined by a small group of voters.
A particularly concerning issue is the internal grievance procedure. Members can bring charges against any other member (i.e. fellow students) for anything that is “against the good and welfare of GET-UP” (Subsection A1: Determining and Filing Charges). What is considered “against the good and welfare” is not substantiated, meaning that it can easily be abused. The hearing panel for the accused is staffed by other students (who can appoint themselves) and has no mechanism to prevent bias. What is even more troubling is that the hearing panel can unilaterally dismiss the charge, without any chance of direct appeal by the accuser. It is easy to imagine that the grievance system can be used to punish dissenting students and/or used to stop valid complaints from affecting the leadership.
GET-UP would make our graduate groups less democratic, as power would not be equally shared among graduate programs. Combining the lack of equal representation with an easy to abuse grievance system could lead to a situation where a small group of union members holds most of the power.
Contrary to the union’s highly undemocratic structure, we have a pan-graduate student body (GAPSA) and twelve elected boards that serve the needs of each individual graduate school. GAPSA ensures that each school has an equal voice within the larger student government, while each school can elect a board to oversee their own issues and concerns. Many times, students can bring their issues directly to their governing board, which can quickly bring the concerns to the administration’s attention. In contrast, the union may decide that your issue is not important, severely constraining your options, as GAPSA’s power would be curtailed. The administration would be highly unlikely to directly deal with student issues if the union is the sole representative of student concerns.
The Financial Burden
Unionization could cost up to $700 a year. Right now, GET-UP is proposing union fees up to 2%, which will mean that graduate students could pay anywhere from $500-700 depending on their stipend. Because GET-UP is part of AFT/AFL-CIO, a significant portion of the dues wouldn’t even stay at Penn, but instead go to the nationwide union offices. Using Cornell as an example and approximately 5000 graduate students, we could see nearly $1.5 million leaving Penn annually in the form of union fees. This money would not benefit Penn and would go to the national unions for political lobbying and administrative overhead.
The Political Burden
Unions are by their very nature political organizations, as laws often influence who they can recruit and where. Union lobbies are some of the most powerful groups in the country and often contribute millions of dollars toward political causes, elections, and politicians. Part of our GET-UP/AFT/AFL-CIO union dues would go to support the union’s political views, which was upheld in the Citizens United Supreme Court case in 2010. One of the large unions that GET-UP is partnering with, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has donated more than $25 million to political causes in 2016 alone, most of which comes from union dues. In fact, AFT’s prolific donations actually caused four of their union members to sue AFT because of their use of union dues for political activities. We do not believe that we should pay dues to an organization that would use our money to support various causes in which we would have no input.
The Unnecessary Burden
As graduate students at Penn, we already have numerous benefits that were won without paying a cent in union dues. The administration is very supportive of our needs and listens to the issues and concerns raised by our democratically elected student governments. When you adjust for cost of living, the stipends we receive for our services are among the highest in the nation. Our student governments have consistently and effectively brought us benefits such as covered health care, paid paternity/maternity leave, grants to cover the cost of raising children, and free emergency childcare, among others. We already have a great relationship with Penn’s administration and we do not need a union to represent us.
GET-UP/AFT/AFL-CIO simply do not have a convincing case for unionization. Their arguments and reasoning are not clear and it is apparent that many of their qualms with the current system (student representation, family support, etc.) are either false or misleading, as Penn already has many of the systems for which they are advocating. As the saying goes: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.