As a former lab safety officer, I am very aware of the inadequate manner by which the university addresses safety issues for grad students working in labs. In the Chemistry Department, instead of going to Occupational Health if we are hurt on the job we have been told to go directly to the emergency room. While Occupational Health staffs physicians who have knowledge of chemical incidences and the effects on the body, the ER has no such expertise. The current procedure also involves students paying for our own emergency care expenses as the university has explicitly told us that graduate students do not get workers’ compensation if hurt at work.
— Graduate Student in Chemistry, School of Arts and Sciences
When I spoke to people about the instructor’s behavior, I was essentially told “that’s just how she is” and no change occurred. I feared going any further as I needed to complete this course to stay in the program but my ability to trust faculty and feel safe at the school has still not recovered.
— Graduate Student in The School of Nursing
I think it is insulting that the university gets such a large cut of any IP and you are forced to give up any and all rights to your own creativity. I think that the university should encourage creativity for the sake of creativity and not for the sake of their own profit.
–Graduate Student in Biomedical Graduate Studies
I’m here to do science not argue with insurance. We need a simpler and more centralized policy for our student healthcare.
— Graduate Student in Biomedical Graduate Studies
In 2014, on the advice of doctors from Student Health Services, I sought medical leave for a wrist injury that was preventing me from being able to do extended work on the computer. Unfortunately, when it was granted to me, I had to purchase my own insurance through Obamacare–despite the fact that I was no longer earning a stipend. This is because Penn ceases to provide healthcare to graduate student workers on leave even when they act on the advice of the University’s own Student Health Services.
— Coleman Donaldson, Graduate School of Education
One of the key points to emerge from the last two weeks of first-hand accounts and statements is the extent to which these issues cut across the university. They are not unique to school or department, but rather underscore the shared experiences between grads across a range of programs. Think worker’s comp only matters to grads in BGS? Grads in SAS work in labs, too. Or that issues with health insurance apply to grad students in SAS? A graduate student from SEAS disagrees. Graduate workers across the university agree that a fair, neutral grievance procedure could improve lives across all schools, from Wharton to Annenberg to Social Policy & Practice.
Graduate students workers are not protected by Penn’s workers’ compensation system, and struggle to receive the care they need when they are injured on the job. They do not have a voice in the development of research property policies, many of which require grads to relinquish their rights as a precondition of their work at Penn. The grievance procedure is fractured and inadequate, silencing graduate students when they are at their most vulnerable. Subsidized health insurance is opaque and inconsistent across campus.
Our ability to fight for change hinges on our ability to collectively organize. We know that there are many things that distinguish workers in various programs, but these testimonials illustrate that as Penn employees, we ultimately labor under shared working conditions.
Next week, we will continue to release statements and testimonials on a range of issues, including transparency and mental health. If you have a story to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, come by our office at 4305 Locust, or get in touch through Facebook or Twitter. If you wish to remain anonymous, we will protect your identity.
Our work makes Penn work. We need a union because we deserve a voice in the decisions that determine the conditions of our labor. GET-UP, as a union of graduate student workers, could provide that voice by negotiating a fair and binding contract with our employer.
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