UPenn’s Graduate Workers’ Union

Thank you for joining us for our last meeting of the semester. Please email us to get involved with preparing our Spring public statement for our upcoming campaign.


GET-UP Public Statement – Fall 2019


We write this letter to announce a new phase of graduate student organizing at the University of Pennsylvania. As we build on a decades-long struggle to unionize graduate student workers at Penn, we encourage you to join our movement at this decisive stage of defining our objectives, forming meaningful solidarities with existing groups on and off campus, and fighting for the kind of University we would like to create. For more information, email us at penngetup@gmail.com. We invite you to join us.

As returning students—and recipients of this message—may be aware, this struggle has a history. In the Fall of 2000, Penn graduate students came together to form a union to better advocate for their interests and to have a role in shaping the future of the University; they called their movement GET-UP (Graduate Employees Together at the University of Pennsylvania). A second union drive was launched, under the same name, in 2015. Both previous efforts were obstructed by an intransigent University administration as well as two uncooperative cabinets, appointed by Bush and Trump, of the National Labor Relations Boards (NLRB). We do not yet have a union, but we enjoy the benefits of these struggles.
As a result of the first drive, graduates won a significant increase in their stipend (up from $12,000 per year to $17,500), more equitable funding within departments, and, for the first time, guaranteed health insurance. Similarly, the 2015 campaign also resulted in a number of key concessions from University management, notably graduate student access to the campus gym facilities, increased funding for dependents, and a 50% subsidy for dental insurance through Penn. Although it is easy to take them for granted, these concessions were hard won through organized pressure against the administration. Further, the way University make these concessions available to graduate students is not without its problems: the gym membership, for example, is sustained by increasing the tuition fees for Masters students. There is still much more that the University can do to support all graduate students.

At present, there is no straightforward path to winning a union formally recognized by the NLRB. What we do have is time, and we intend to use it. The most recent GET-UP campaign shed light on a variety of issues that remain relevant for graduate student workers at Penn today: inadequate access to healthcare and to dental or vision care; discriminatory practices against students of color, LGBTQ+ and disabled students; funding and job insecurity; opaque grievance procedures at the university, school, and department levels; and several others, such as workers’ compensation; support for family dependents; and protections for international student workers. We believe that the issues the recent campaign raised, and the solidarities it generated, provide a powerful template for future organizing at Penn. We also believe that in order for GET-UP to win a union in the future, we must continue to maintain and build graduate student power.

As we enter this new phase of organizing, we invite graduate student workers at Penn to join us and shape our movement. A number of initiatives are already underway: an anti-sexual harassment campaign, creating a “disorientation guide” for newly admitted graduate students, and a power mapping project to develop an organizing strategy. For the Fall, we plan to collaborate with local organizations, such as the Student Labor Action Project, connect with labor organizers in Philadelphia and across the U.S., and host teach-ins that focus on the state of graduate student labor at private universities.

In solidarity,