The Graduate Employees’ Organization
at the University has long provided a strong voice and bargaining
power for graduate student instructors. While it has had its
conflicts with the union, the University recognizes that GSIs are
valuable employees. At the University of Pennsylvania,
administrators seem to feel otherwise. Last year, Graduate student
employees at Pennsylvania were granted the right to organize by the
National Labor Relations Board. They promptly voted on whether or
not to create a union. While support for the union is strong, the
university has refused to acknowledge the vote and has filed suit
against the union, claiming that the graduate students cannot
organize because they are not employees. As a result, the union
votes remain uncounted and the unionization is on hold.

Julie Pannuto

The tired old argument that GSIs are not employees should be put
to rest. GSEs at Pennsylvania, in addition to having free tuition,
are paid a yearly salary of at least $15,000. They provide valuable
teaching and research without which the university would be unable
to function. While certainly their teaching and research augment
their own studies, GSEs are undeniably paid employees.

Last week, Pennsylvania GSEs staged a two-day strike in order to
focus attention on the university’s refusal to count the
votes for their proposed union. It is clear that graduate students
deserve the right at the very least to organize their own
union.

University of Pennsylvania Provost Robert Barchi called the
strike an “unfair and unreasonable” action, “for
a small group of graduate students who are being paid to receive an
Ivy League education.” The strike was minimally disruptive,
no classes were canceled, picket lines did not prevent entry to
buildings and informational flyers were handed out. These tactics
were not “unfair and unreasonable.” What is unfair is a
blanket refusal to count votes cast in a democratic election. What
is unreasonable is the university’s unwillingness to allow
employees to organize into a union.

All employees should have the ability to democratically decide
to form a union. Unionization gives workers a greater voice, and
collective bargaining can result in fair labor agreements.

When graduate students are able to organize, in addition to
having a greater voice, they also are able to provide more for the
university and for students. While a well-established union is able
to handle grievances and labor issues, graduate students can focus
on teaching and their own studies. Moreover, the union is not just
about the money. A union provides stability and creates a strong
advocacy group that will stand up for other issues that may affect
graduate students.

The GSEs voted a year ago to organize. Let’s hope
Pennsylvania’s administration drops its obstructionist ways
and allows the votes to be counted.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *