NLRB Hearing Update: Day 5

Dear Members,

Here are some updates from Day 5 of our hearings at the NLRB. You can get a sense of what Penn’s witnesses are saying by following @GETUPgrads and #UPennHearing, but here’s what we heard, and what we felt, while we were in the room today.

For the most part, today’s testimony from Joseph Turow, Associate Dean of Annenberg, and Nora Lewis, Vice Dean for Professional and Liberal Education, reinforced two things that we already knew. First, it reinforced that Penn’s lawyers are quite intent on stalling as much as they can. The day’s proceedings concluded 2.5 hours early. This drags out the proceedings, by forcing more and more days of testimony. This comes at the precise moment that President Trump put forward his nominees to the NLRB. This is what we have feared all along, and what Penn has been counting on as well. Trump’s nominees stand to undermine the gains that graduate workers at private universities across the country have made in the last year.

Second, it became clear that without graduate workers, Penn could maintain neither its large class sizes, nor the intimate educational environment from which our students currently benefit. This is obviously only possible because of all the work that graduate student workers do in recitation sections and office hours. Associate Dean Turow even said that he would “grade exams himself if he had smaller classes.” Instead, grads are doing that work. We’re the people that the undergrads reach out to in order to get help on assignments and to clarify the material. They come to our office hours because they know us and feel comfortable with us, and respect the work that we do.

To us, GET-UP is about unifying graduate students across Penn in an effort to compel the university to value the contributions we make to the academic development of thousands of undergraduates. For us, it is about creating unity, which is especially important in the current political climate. The window is closing on our right to unionize, as Trump’s appointees speed towards confirmation. If Penn really valued its graduate workers, as it claims to, then it would stop stalling and let us make this decision democratically and for ourselves.

If you agree with us, please join us and many others in pledging to vote YES in our upcoming election. It’s an important show of strength to Penn that we want to exercise our rights, while we still have the time!

In solidarity,

Mia Schatz and Danielle Hanley

NLRB Hearing Update: Day 4

June 19, 2017

Dear Members,

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!

In solidarity,

Emma Teitelman

NLRB Hearings: First Week

June 14, 2017

Dear Members,

As you know, our election hearings opened at the offices of the National Labor Relations Board here in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Many of you were either in attendance or following along via #UPennHearing or @getupgrads. For those of you that weren’t, here’s a brief sense of what’s been happening so far…

Despite the precedent of the Columbia decision and the many hours of work that we know we all do, Penn’s lawyers are seeking re-litigate the issue of whether we are workers in attempt to block our right to vote at all. On the stand, a collection of deans and administrators made statements including:

  • “I am an ally of the students” while testifying against our efforts
  • Teaching a class is actually Ph.D training in “oral communication,” not a job
  • Only students in interdisciplinary programs TA outside their field of study
  • What we do is not work — it’s an “educational pursuit”
  • The relationship between grads and PIs is a “synergistic exchange,” trying to sidestep the professional relationship that exists alongside the educational one

Many of these statements attempt to undermine the roles we all play here at Penn. Of course, this boils down to the fact that we are BOTH students AND workers.

We simply believe that to reach our full potential as both students pursuing degrees, and workers advancing the University’s mission, we need a fair and impartial grievance procedure, adequate funding, improved dental and health coverage, and workers compensation, just to name a few conditions. Above all, we need a seat at the table to tackle these and all the other issues that affect us.

If you agree with us, we need you to add your name to our pledge to vote yes in the coming union election. Take a moment to add your name and join the hundreds of your colleagues who are standing together for a better, more transparent, more democratic Penn for all of us.

In solidarity,

The Coordinating Committee of GET-UP

GET READY FOR OUR RECOGNITION ELECTION!

Great news! We filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election for official recognition as a union.
This has been an exciting journey to union recognition.

Rather than sending out an alarmist, anti-union email, the Penn administration could have told people how to update their address to make sure they receive their ballots later this summer. To receive an official ballot to vote for the union you must update your address in the Penn In Touch directory. Don’t wait until the last minute to confirm and update your address. Your vote matters! Check out the video below for instructions. #getupgrads

Penn In Touch address update

Great news! We filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election for official recognition as a union.
This has been an exciting journey to union recognition.

Rather than sending out an alarmist, anti-union email, the Penn administration could have told people how to update their address to make sure they receive their ballots later this summer. To receive an official ballot to vote for the union you must update your address in the Penn In Touch directory. Don’t wait until the last minute to confirm and update your address. Your vote matters! Check out the video below for instructions. #getupgrads

Posted by GET-UP on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Watch the video above and change your summer contact info in preparation for a summer election!


Dear Members,

GET-UP has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a formal recognition election! Following months of dedicated organizing by over a hundred activists, a strong majority of graduate student workers support our union. We are excited to take this step towards winning recognition and, eventually, a contract.

Our petition includes graduate student workers in the Annenberg School for Communication, the School of Arts and Sciences, Biomedical Graduate Studies, the School of Design, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Nursing, and the School of Social Policy and Practice. From the beginning of this campaign, our goal was to build the most inclusive union possible in order to empower graduate student workers across Penn. However, all graduate campaigns are faced with difficult decisions about the composition of the bargaining unit, and GET-UP’s Coordinating Committee ultimately decided to leave the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Wharton School of Business outside of the bargaining unit in our petition for the recognition election. This decision, which followed extensive deliberation with members from all schools, allows us to file from the strongest possible position given our limited time frame. We will continue to organize in SEAS and Wharton and will pursue opportunities for adding members in these schools to a future contract.

The petition will likely lead to hearings at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In similar hearings at other private universities, university administrations have advanced multiple unconvincing, even insulting, arguments against the right of graduate student workers to organize. For example, the University of Chicago hired expensive lawyers to argue that teaching is not work, and that science PhDs can’t possibly be valuable employees because most of their experiments fail and no one would employ failures. Yale hired expensive lawyers to argue that multiple small units were undemocratic, and Harvard hired the same expensive lawyers to argue that a large unit was undemocratic. We expect that the Penn administration will hire expensive lawyers to argue that graduate student workers are not entitled to our rights as workers.

After the hearings are over, a mail-in election will be held this summer. It’s crucial that all our members vote, so we will continue to be in touch with you about election details. Voter ballots will be sent to the address that you have listed in Penn InTouch: make sure your address is up-to-date! We will be checking in regularly to make sure you have an updated address, that you receive your ballot, and that you vote. You can do so much more than vote; reply to this email or get in touch with an activist if you want to contribute even more to our effort to win a union!

In solidarity,

GET-UP

Graduate Student Appreciation Week

Throughout Penn’s “Graduate Student Appreciation Week” (4/3-4/7), GET-UP released testimonials from graduate student workers on multiple issues they’ve experienced while at Penn, and what a union could do to help solve them. You can see a recap of the issues discussed during the first week here and during the second week here.

The donuts from “Graduate Student Appreciation Week” may be gone, but we’re going to keep on releasing issues for the next week. Today, we’re explaining why grads want a contract:

Over the last few weeks, GET-UP has released multiple statements featuring dozens of testimonials about the issues we hope to address. Our union organizes around these grievances not only to raise awareness but also to build a community and find collective solutions that work for everybody. After winning recognition from our employer, Penn, we will enter into negotiations with them over the terms of our labor. The outcome of these bargaining sessions, once ratified by our membership, will be fixed in a contract: a legally-binding agreement that will define and govern the employment relationship between graduate student workers and the university.

A union contract will establish a clearly communicated set of expectations for our working conditions. However, the conditions of employment need not be the same for graduate student workers in every program, department, or school. Contracts can operate at different levels of generality and specificity: while a clause concerning healthcare, for example, can apply to everyone, an article on workers’ compensation may apply to a smaller population. In other words, while our community of interest defines the broadest scope of the contract, each section does not necessarily have to cover the same population.

Two aspects of the contract that will definitely affect the entire community of interest are the grievance procedure and ‘no harm clause.’ Should the university break with the terms of our agreement, the grievances of graduate student workers will be investigated and arbitrated by an independent body. The grievance procedure is inseparable from and guarantees the contract: its purpose is to resolve any dispute concerning the interpretation, application, or violation of a specific term or provision of the contract. This will enable graduate student workers to be confident in the terms of their working conditions, rely on a clearly communicated set of expectations, and fairly arbitrate academic issues related to labor disputes. GET-UP will also negotiate for a ‘no harm clause’ that will ensure that the application of our contract will not lead to a real-wage decrease or loss of benefits for any members. It is a guarantee to members that they will not lose out by supporting the union.

The administration has implied that entering into contract negotiations with a graduate student union is fraught with uncertainty. Of course, their position is paradoxical given confusing statements that our admissions letters are versions of, or, “euphemisms for” contracts. To be clear, an admissions letter is not a contract: you will not get very far if you try to litigate an admissions letter in a court of law. Overall, we find the administration’s skepticism disingenuous. Skepticism about contract negotiations is not a part of informed debate: we have over fifty years of data to help shape a platform for negotiation. Other unions have negotiated contracts that contain significant and lasting improvements to their working conditions. In doing so, they have established a long and clear precedence of what unions can achieve. What this means is that when we go into negotiations, we will not be starting from scratch. Anything we achieve is predicated on what already exists—albeit non-contractually—at Penn. With this in mind, what is important to note is not necessarily the details of what other unions have achieved, impressive though they are, but that they had a voice at the table on these issues.

Take dental coverage. The Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Michigan has negotiated for their employer to pay “100% of the premium” for their dental plan (Article 11, Section B). The Graduate Student Organizing Committee at NYU negotiated the same (Article 18, Section C).

Or consider family and dependent support. The contract between GEO at the University of Michigan and their administration stipulates that the University will pay 75% of the insurance premiums for dependents and 66% for spouses or partners (Appendix C). To defray the costs of childcare, the University of California Student-Workers Union has negotiated for the university to offer $1,350 per semester to graduate students with children (Article 4, Section B1).

We know that personal and family health care, as well as mental health care will be on the negotiating table because healthcare has been a key issue in graduate organizing campaigns since 1970, when the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison won greater benefits. Perhaps more importantly, unions help to protect what we already have. As this letter to the Coalition of Graduate Employees at Penn State University explains, unions can help prevent significant and costly gaps in coverage, and provide redress when they do.

Other graduate unions have gone to extensive lengths to address issues affecting international student workers. Recent contracts have included discrimination protections for international graduate workers, such as GEO at the University of Michigan (Appendix C, Side Letter). Others have included provisions for defraying the costs of SEVIS/visa fees. The Coalition of Graduate Employees at Oregon State University has negotiated a contract that includes reimbursement of up to $360 for these costs (Article 12, Section 3). The faculty union at the University of Oregon has stipulated for “[a]ll fees associated with applying for or renewing an H1B or J1 visa” to be paid for by the University (Article 28, Section 6).

Graduate student workers at Penn have raised the issue of being denied inclusion in Penn’s workers’ compensation policies. Other graduate unions have had bargained over this, too. The Cornell University administration, which had been hostile to including graduate students in workers’ compensation, changed its policy in 2015 under pressure from Cornell Graduate Students United. A union of postdocs at the University of California moved the UC administration to provide workers’ compensation in their latest contract.

Recently, the Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Michigan broadened the scope of what graduate unions can achieve when they pushed for the inclusion of “diversity workers” in their latest contract. GEO argued that the burden of advocating for policies that ensure equity is labor and should be protected in a legally-binding contract. In response to opposition from the University of Michigan administration, Michigan grads organized grade-ins, sit-ins, rallies, and marches. Their actions were successful: their new contract includes the provisions for six paid graduate student staff positions to implement the University’s new “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.”

Some victories are yet to be won, and some concerns that GET-UP have raised have not been subject to collective bargaining in higher education. The ability to negotiate over issues concerning intellectual property and fellowship funding would be triumph for graduate student workers at Penn and beyond. There is reason for optimism: the history of the union movement is one of expansion where new issues are arbitrated and each successive contact offers new gains.  Gains of historic importance can include raises in salary like the 4% that NYU achieved in 2015, or they can include opening up new areas of negotiation. Even in campaigns that break new ground, contract campaigns can be both swift and democratic, as indicated by the timeline for Michigan GEO’s recent negotiations.

GET-UP, as a union of graduate student workers, will negotiate a strong contract that covers an expansive range of issues and clearly communicates expectations to graduate student workers. Contracts are tools that allow unions to install a vision of how a fair and respectful workplace should function over the long term by recording and protecting benefits. As a union with a broad base of support from across the university and beyond, we are confident in our ability to achieve our aims.

Petition for a Fair and Democratic Union Election

GET-UP invites all members of the University of Pennsylvania community, including graduate workers, undergrads, staff, and faculty, as well as supporters of union democracy throughout the City of Philadelphia and beyond, to join us in this petition asking that the university remain neutral as we move to certify our union in an election.


Text of the petition:

To: Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania & David Cohen, Chairman of the Board of the University of Pennsylvania
From: [Your Name]

​We, the graduate employees of the University of Pennsylvania, have initiated the process of forming ourselves into a union. We believe that a contract produced by collective bargaining could address general and specific issues facing graduate students, as well as guarantee more democratic avenues for graduate students to participate in the university. Our aim is to develop our collective power to improve our working conditions, enrich our academic experience, and transform the university into a more democratic and diverse workplace for the benefit of the wider community, including undergraduates, standing and non-standing faculty, and the City of Philadelphia.

We formally ask that the administration respect our rights to free speech, assembly, and organization without fear of reprisal. To assure us of your respect for our rights, we ask that you publicly declare and practically resolve to remain neutral as we decide whether to unionize. That includes, but is not limited to:

· Not harassing, surveilling, bribing, or interrogating individual students, which is prohibited by U.S. federal law

· Not intimidating minority, immigrant, underrepresented, international, or first-generation graduate students

· Not threatening to take away our current benefits, such as healthcare

· Not pressuring student organizations on campus

· Not spreading misinformation about unionization

· Not using university funds to hire outside, third-party, anti-union lawyers, consultants, or firms

Your decision to remain neutral will allow us to make this decision democratically, and for ourselves, free from intimidation or coercion.