Protecting Grad Organizing and the Future of Our Union

Last May, GET-UP filed for union recognition with the National Labor Relations Board. In response, the Penn Board of Trustees hauled graduate students into hearings, argued that grads cannot be both workers and students, and ultimately delayed our election by 203 days. In December, we were excited to finally receive our election order and to continue organizing graduate student workers to have a democratic say in their workplaces.
Unfortunately, Penn’s opposition has continued with arguments along the  same old lines. In the past weeks, we’ve seen numerous anti-union e-mails riddled with falsehoods and scare tactics formulated to intimidate grads. Instead of recognizing the majority of grad student support we demonstrated back in May, Penn chose to invest tuition dollars on frivolous legal hurdles orchestrated by the union-busting law firm Ballard Spahr. Their strategy is to delay, stall and confuse, all at the expense of grads exercising their legal right to organize. And most importantly, in contradiction to labor law, Penn has continued to forcefully assert that graduate students are mentees and future colleagues – but not workers.
Why can Penn take such a hard anti-union line against the rights of its grads? Because Penn is relying on the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board as a backstop. It has only taken the Trump NLRB a few months to overturn numerous protections for workers that were established in the last eight years. We believe that the Trump NLRB, when filled with a majority of union-busting appointees, will also move to overturn the Columbia decision that recognized our right to organize around our wages, working conditions, and benefits.
In response to these challenges, GET-UP took an important and powerful step to withdraw our election petition in order to ensure that Penn and the NLRB cannot use our campaign to overturn the Columbia precedent. We made this decision in a Special General Body Members’ Meeting on Thursday, February 15. Our petition to withdraw was submitted to the NLRB today and we are waiting for an official acceptance notice. While we are disappointed in Penn’s administration and by the appointments of union-busting NLRB members, we know that a union is ultimately much more than an election. Withdrawing our petition helps protect grad workers’ rights across the country and our ability to organize for an election in the future.
To that end, GET-UP, in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, will continue to organize graduate students, to advocate for graduate worker rights at Penn, and to press for union recognition directly with our administration. Over the coming weeks, GET-UP will be developing a long-term strategy for our campaign, and we encourage all members to be a part of this process in their departments and schools.
Our colleagues in the the Graduate School of Education will be presenting a petition at the University Open Council Forum on February 21 from 4:40pm-6:00pm in Bodek Lounge, Houston Hall. For the past several months, GSE has been organizing to improve the reporting mechanisms for and graduate worker protections against sexual harassment in their school. GET-UP will be a strong presence at this meeting. Please consider joining us (and wear your shirt or pin!).
GET-UP is the union of graduate student workers at the University of Pennsylvania. Our aim is to improve our working conditions, enrich our academic experience, and transform the university into a more democratic workplace for the benefit of the wider community. We remain committed to working together for a better Penn.