What You Learn Going into Grad offices

Over the last 6 months I’ve walked through the majority of buildings on campus. Although I know I have not yet personally been to every building with grad students in it, I feel comfortable at this point saying that I have been to the majority of them. I’ve done this, of course, to talk to grad students and drop off flyers about unionization (if you haven’t checked your mailbox recently you should, there might be a present from me), but I’ve also learned a few things:

  1. The scary signs that say something about radiation probably aren’t that accurate, unless they are. When I first encountered a sign on a lab door with a vague warning about radiation or chemicals I was at least slightly disconcerted at the prospect of entering (I think this was somewhere in Electrical Engineering). I was made even more nervous when a friend I was with, who comes from a physical science background, just walked right on it. With some prodding from him I learned that these signs are only vaguely important. And after months of knocking on doors I can only remember one time when the sign actually lead to a student asking me not to enter (although still taking flyers to handout).

  2. There is a Learning Factory(?) on campus. I was under the impression that Penn State is one giant learning factory but I guess there is a specific one as well. (Connected to this is that I found out there are buildings on the other side of Atherton.)

  3. The IST Building is the nicest on campus. Hands down. It has an Au Bon Pain. Spots to work. Touchscreen directories.

  4. I am still not sure about which is the worst building on campus. For a while I thought that my own, Pond Lab, with its sealed shut windows and oddly spaced bathrooms would take this spot, but I am starting to appreciate it. To be polite I will not go into details but I will say, hey at least we have windows.

  5. Staff assistants are the nicest people at Penn State. I’ve always suspected this, given the staff in my own department, but after walking in, rather confused, to many offices this has been reaffirmed and generalized. A lot of staff, answered a lot of questions about where grad mailboxes were, or offices (sometimes not even in their own department)

  6. Most graduate students are willing to talk to the weird guy who just knocked on their office door. Setting out on this I had some trepidation about walking up and talking to other graduate students about anything, let alone unionization. We are not always known as the most gregarious group, and I feared that I wouldn’t get much beyond blank stares. Now, I won’t pretend as if I haven’t gotten any blank stares, but the majority of students were at least willing to actively listen if not talk to me.

Nominees for Co-Leaders

We are currently taking nominees for co-leadership position. The co-leaders will be the face of the CGE. Although they will not be the sole point of contact for it they will be the first ones in charge of talking with media or at events. As such whatever graduate student is selected must be unafraid with speaking about the issues of graduate students, especially how diverse these issues are. We hope that the leadership will reflect the diversty of gender, race, and colleges that the CGE represents. To nominate yourself or someone else please email Kevin.Reuning@gmail.com  

Meeting Summary from 9/21/15

  • Moderator: Darwin

  • First discussion point: How do we formalize decision making to ensure that we can make decisions when necessary?

    • We are going to create two committees to deal with different efforts: media and organizing.

      • Media: will build contacts with media, create press releases and other related documents, control the website, and do any necessary social media.

      • Organizing: will be in charge of canvassing, flyering, tabling, as well as outreach to other groups and individuals.

    • Those in attendance discussed their personal preferences for what group to work with. We nominated two individuals to be the contact point for the initial committee:

    • Also discussed having a face of the organization. Decided to create two co-leaders who would help to keep things organized but also be the outward face of the organization.

      • We found it best that we have one woman and one man.

      • Darwin and Robert were nominated, but we will take more nominations now before we vote. Email Kevin.Reuning@gmail.com with nominations.

  • How to talk about unions:

    • We did not spend a lot of time on this as members of the Labor and Employee Relations dept weren’t available to attend. We did discuss the need of holding a training ASAP.

  • Upcoming Events:

    • The grad school is holding townhalls. We need to be involved in them.

    • There are different townhalls for different colleges. As of now we know:

      • College of Ag – Oct 5th 5:30

      • College of Liberal Arts – Oct 6th 5:30

      • Eberly College of Science – Oct 7th 5:30

    • We want to table outside of the event with information about the union.

    • We need to discuss what questions should be the focus of our asks.

    • Organizing committee should take over planning this.

  • Other items:

    • Jeffrey M – Has been talking with American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about them supporting us. They have offered to sign a letter of support.

    • We have the opportunity to have a running column in the Collegian. Need to finalize what our first letter should be (Media).

Why I’m Pro-Union – Ally Kupar

Today, I drove myself to the Doctor’s office on the other side of a sleepy early morning State College. I patiently explained my condition to an albeit standoffish doctor as I recounted the past two months of appointments and medication. In July, after returning from fieldwork in Kenya for my dissertation (well, pre-dissertation), I had a mild ear infection that resulted in hearing loss. It’s at 40% in both ears now and I’ll be needing hearing aids in order to continue my mostly qualitative work (interviewing, listening, these are key to my research). After a painful procedure to test my left cochlear with steroids, I headed off to the office, a little woozier than I would have liked, to start a day of meetings and online teaching at my Graduate Assistantship.

Hearing aids aren’t covered by my graduate student insurance and cost more individually than I make in a month on my stipend from the university. Two years ago, when I first started at Penn State, I didn’t need hearing aids, and I don’t know if they would have been covered under the previous, better policy that we had (probably not, honestly, insurance doesn’t like to pay for hearing aids). But the fact is that without a union, as a student worker, there is literally nothing I can do to affect change about my health insurance, my stipend, my hours, the amount of time I need to take off to attend appointments, etc.

I have a great job, better even then my job last year. I TA, support faculty-led research, present at conferences, publish, all while working towards my own dissertation. I work with great and understanding faculty and staff who will give me a break when I need it. But I can’t live on the goodness of others alone, unfortunately. I’m vulnerable now, because I’m sick, and I need something that will protect me if I need to take more time off, if something gets worse. And I’m not alone.

I was pro-union before I got sick because I saw what happened to the health insurance plan that I came to this school with in 2013. I saw how the plan was swapped out by an administration that was unable (or unwilling) to negotiate for its most vulnerable staff. I saw my colleagues fight for our healthcare and make inroads. The policy we ended up with was better than the one originally handed down to us but it still means I pay the equivalent of half of my month's rent out of pocket every time I go to the doctor (in network or out, doesn’t matter). That negotiation happened because the administration had some ability to listen to our needs. Imagine what we could accomplish if we organized together! Working alongside the university, which already works with other unions to protect staff and faculty, we could ensure that no other graduate student workers will face the same insecurity that I’m facing now.

I’m not asking for handouts, I’m not asking for more money, or “perks,” I’m asking for the protection that all workers in this country have the right to ask for and to have. I am grateful to work for and produce scholarly works for the world-renowned research institution that is Penn State. I look forward to the day when I can say that this institution is great because it protects its workers, all of its workers, and that we all have a voice in our work and futures.

-Ally Krupar, Graduate Student in Adult Education and Comparative International Education

Labor Day Luncheon News Coverage

Yesterday's Labor Day Luncheon was a great success with 80 some graduate students coming out to talk about how they can make Penn State better. Thanks to Food Not Bombs we didn't even run out of food. We will have some more thoughts on the event and the plans for the future soon but we want to highlight the two articles that covered yesterday's event. The Daily Collegian had some great indepth coverage: 

Penn State graduate students met on Labor Day in front of Old Main to discuss unionization at the Coalition of Graduate Employees’ luncheon.

Pamphlets were handed out to those who attended the CGE’s Labor Day Luncheon for Unionization with information about forming the coalition’s first union.

CGE is a Penn State graduate employee organization working to create a union in order to be a part of the university’s decision-making process.

“A union would never determine who got which jobs or constrain the university to pay everyone the same. It would, however, determine that everyone gets paid enough,” Robert Birdwell (graduate-English) said. “A union would not prevent you from working overtime but it would say that you have to get paid for overtime.”

The Centre Daily Times also covered the event, although the coverage did not go as in-depth as we hope future coverage will be. It is critical for this conversation to be public, and hopefully the media will ensure that everyone is  informed about our options. 

Labor Day Luncheon

The Coalition of Graduate Employees at Penn State is hosting a Labor Day luncheon at noon (September 7, 12PM) in front of Old Main for all graduate employees, families, and allies to discuss how a graduate employee union might better our position at Penn State.

At this luncheon, the CGE invites all graduate students and their friends, families and allies, to meet for a public conversation over graduate employee unionization – its benefits, costs, risks, and opportunities. Given that Labor Day marks a national day of recognition of the labor done by workers, the CGE would like to celebrate the occasion by discussing graduate employee welfare, workload and wages. This conversation is all more relevant since this public holiday will actually be another day at the office for many graduate students.
Labor Day Flyer

Where Are We Going?

Given the changes over the last year in graduate employees benefits, the stagnation of graduate stipends, and the lack of transparency in university decision-making, graduate students at Pennsylvania State University have begun to explore our options in strengthening our role in decision making processes at Penn State. What started as only a handful of students has slowly grown, and we have put together this website to open the discussion about what a graduate student union would mean at Penn State.

As of now we are committed to broadening the participation of graduate students at Penn State. We hope that you will join us in this process by being either actively involved or talking to your friends and colleagues about the role of graduate students here at Penn State.