June 19, 2017
Our NLRB hearings continue! Today was the 4th day of hearings at the National Labor Relations Board. You might be following along on Twitter with @GETUPgrads or #UPennhearing, but I’m emailing about my experience just in case you want a summary that’s not confined to 140 characters at a time.
Today, Penn’s lawyers brought two witnesses to testify: Dr. Carol Muller, Graduate Chair in Music, and Dr. Julie Sochalski, Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Associate Professor of Nursing. Both were driving home the argument that TAing and RAing are part of our training, and therefore that they don’t constitute work. Whether or not TAing and RAing qualify as work was, in fact, already decided by the NLRB when Columbia’s grad students won the right to unionize. This is why our campaign has been possible. Why are these lawyers rehashing arguments that have already been decided? Perhaps they are hoping to reverse the legal precedent that protects our rights. They are also most definitely trying to drag the hearings out til Trump can reconfigure the board, as many of you probably know.
Today’s witnesses made some points that I sort of agreed with (“Teaching is a great teacher of teachers”), and ones that felt out of touch with grads’ experiences (apparently when we teach our own courses, we are provided with a syllabus?? Not according to anyone I know..) What was most frustrating to me, though, was the argument that we can’t gain professional experience and perform work at the same time. At one point, one admin even suggested that our work was like a “kind of internship” — as if all the grading, recitations, courses, experiments, etc that we run aren’t integral to Penn’s daily functions. It didn’t feel great to hear that my teaching is basically an internship. This work has meant a lot to me personally — I love teaching history — and it is also valuable to Penn, even if the Board of Trustees’ anti-union lawyers insist on belittling it. So to sum up, today’s hearing made me feel more than ever that respect and collective decision-making power are worth fighting for.
To me, GET-UP is about improving our work conditions, but it is also about respect and solidarity. I was really feeling the love from all of you guys in the twitter world. Keep it up! The energy has been amazing, and I think it will go a long way towards bringing us to the finish line. Also, if you haven’t already, please do join me (and many others) in pledging to vote YES in the upcoming union election — it’s an important show of strength, which means a whole lot for building our union. And stay tuned for more live tweeting / hearing updates!