NLRB Hearings

After we filed for an election, Penn’s administration decided to challenge our request to hold an election, which triggered hearings at the National Labor Relations Board. This delayed our chance to vote on unionization.
The hearings lasted 13 business days, spread over three weeks. Of those, the first nine days were the administration’s witnesses, most of them administrators or faculty with administrative roles (such as deans). None were grads. GET-UP’s witnesses gave testimony during the next three days; our witnesses were eight grad workers from across the university, who testified about our work experiences. We also tried to call one expert witness, a professor from Rutgers who has researched the effects of grad unions, but the administration’s lawyers objected that her testimony was irrelevant and she was not allowed to testify. The final day was the conclusion of the hearing. The administration was represented by Ballard Spahr, one of the largest law firms in the United States. GET-UP was represented by Willig, Williams and Davidson, a union-side labor law firm.
We wrote daily emails during the hearings to keep our members up-to-date on what was happening at the hearings, and the hashtag #UPennhearing included live tweets from a dedicated team of grads who attended the hearings throughout.
Download the transcripts of the hearings here. We will keep posting as we get the rest.
There were three main points of debate at the hearings, which the Board Officer will decide on:
  1. Timing and form of election
    • Our position: We argued for a mail-in summer election because we know that our right to unionize is endangered by Trump’s appointments to the NLRB. Even if the election takes place in fall, we want a mail-in ballot to allow the many grads who are not on campus to participate, and because of the higher level of confidentiality a mail-in ballot affords
    • Admin’s position: Penn’s lawyers have argued against a summer election on the grounds that many people travel over the summer. They’ve also argued that Penn’s payroll system is such a mess that they can’t possibly produce voter rolls until the fall. They want an in-person election.
  2. Bargaining unit
    • Our position: Labor law gives unions significant leeway in proposing a bargaining unit, which must represent an overwhelming community of interest. We proposed a unit that includes seven schools and programs that constitute such a community of interest. We believe that NLRB precedent gives us a strong case to maintain our proposed unit
    • Admin’s position: Penn’s lawyers argued that it is impossible to separate out any PhD-granting schools from the other schools and programs in our unit.
  3. Voter eligibility
    • Our position: We want to be sure that graduate workers are able to vote, whether they have taken some time off from TAing/RAing for work or personal reasons, and even if Penn’s payroll system gives them an ambiguous-seeming work designation. Many grads are employed discontinuously at Penn, for example taking a year to conduct research elsewhere before returning to employment at Penn. We want those people to be able to vote.
    • Admin’s position: Penn’s lawyers argued for a much more restrictive voter eligibility formula. They argued that the likelihood that a grad worker works as part of a fellowship, goes off that working fellowship, and then returns to working at Penn is rare.
But wait—much of what Penn’s lawyers asked about at the hearing was aimed at determining whether or not we are workers, and none of these points are about that issue. That’s right; Penn’s lawyers spent most of the hearing arguing that we cannot be both students and workers, but the law is clear on that issue. We are both students and workers, and we have the right to unionize.
On the last day of the hearings, Friday, June 30, the lawyers were given 14 business days to write their briefs, summarizing their positions and their proposals for the form of an election. After they submit their briefs, the Board Officer considered the issues outlined above. The board officer released an election order on December 19. You can read the election order here.