A Scientist’s Testimonial for Unionization

I’ve been a scientist in industry, government and academe. In all three settings I’ve seen how having the protection of a union works, not only for job security, but in defense of scientific integrity.

 

As a graduate student/instructor, I experienced the lack of a union’s presence in that workplace by way of discriminatory policy in work assignments and compensation. Later, after retiring from government (USEPA) as a university chemistry professor, lack of union protection led to forced retirement, even in the face of excellent student evaluations of my teaching. The real reason for leaving that position was my anticipated publication in the peer-reviewed literature of information about the risks associated with the principal chemical used to fluoridate water supplies…the university employing me had received a large grant from the Oral Health Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, apparently with the stipulation that I be gone after that academic year.

 

After grad school I worked as a research chemist in industry for 16 years, then got into the environmental side of the business. My quite visible outside work with the environmentalist community freaked out management, and I was ordered back to the research bench – no union to fight for me over that retaliatory action. I left shortly afterward for EPA.  

 

That’s all the bad news. The good news is about my experience as a union organizer and leader at EPA. I am one of eight charter members of the union (at first, Local 2050, National Federation of Federal Employees; now Chapter 280, National Treasury Employees Union) that represents scientists, engineers and other professional employees at EPA headquarters.

 

Our union was the driving force behind EPA’s finally promulgating its Principles of Scientific Integrity (after battling the issue for 13 years). We defended the Senior Toxicologist in the Office of Water after he was fired for – as the Administrative Law Judge ruled in the successful lawsuit that followed – refusing to remain silent about fluoride’s ability to produce bone cancer.  We defended a Pesticides Office toxicologist during his struggles to have honest science applied to the toxicity of malathion. We fought for removal of carpet that had injured EPA workers in their offices – and later affected national policy on that subject….all under protections granted us a union officials.

 

There were many, many other instances of our union defending  EPA employees, and – ultimately – the public for whom we worked. A website was created recently by my union brother, Dr. Bob Carton, and I that details some of our work and why we did it. It expressly explains why we chose to organize a labor union rather than a professional association, or something similar that would have had no legal clout. The site remains a work-in-progress, with more examples of our professionals’ union’s successes. Our website had over 6500 visits in April. Come take a look.

 

epaunionhistory.org

 

– J. William Hirzy, PhD

 

A Better Way is Possible: Lessening the Power Disparity Between Faculty and Graduate Employees

This past weekend marked Penn State’s graduation ceremony, which caused me to reflect on my experiences here. Though I do not officially graduate until August, after defending on May 12th, I will have completed all the PhD requirements. This was not an easy feat. Ask any newly minted PhD and they will tell you that their road was marked by struggle, hard work, tears, and, at times, feeling of despair and hopelessness. Nevertheless, we persist, working toward the goal of becoming experts in our chosen fields and disseminating knowledge that will (hopefully) help to better  our society. As I mentioned in an earlier post, as the only black male in my department grad school has been no “crystal stair.” Additionally, I experienced something that can happen to any graduate employee: dealing with an unsupportive and neglectful faculty adviser.

My adviser abandoned me. With just two months before my tentative dissertation defense, he chose to not only step down as my chair, but also as my academic adviser. His departure led another committee member to step down as well. I found myself tasked with rebuilding my committee and re-defending my dissertation proposal. His departure caused me to worry that I would not be able to defend and graduate before beginning my faculty position this coming fall. I felt hopeless, defeated, and above all, confused. Graduate employees and their faculty mentors part ways all the time. In certain scenarios, like if a graduate employee is taking their research in a new direction, it is appropriate for said employee to seek out a more fitting adviser. Occasionally, advisers and advisees have irreconcilable differences and must part ways for the benefit of both parties. In these scenarios, the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial. Regardless of the circumstances, open communication and clear protocol are necessary. I received no communication (to this day I do not know why my adviser abandoned me) nor was there a formal process that my adviser had to go through to drop me as his advisee. In short, I was dropped without any notice, and found myself struggling to reform my committee so that I could defend and graduate in time to start my faculty position this coming fall. The actions of my adviser demonstrated a wanton inconsideration of the wellbeing of someone with considerably less power than him.

That’s what it comes down to. Power. All too often, faculty feel that they have the power to treat their advisees however they see fit and that they are above any punitive actions. A union, however, would even out this power disparity, allowing us to advocate for the mentorship, answers, and consistency that we need from faculty. I am a proud member of CGE and an avid supporter of graduate employee unionization because I believe that we cannot have a university where professors treat their advisees unjustly without fear of recourse. What happened  to me should not happen to anyone.

To this day I still wonder why my adviser chose to abandon me. Is it because he is close to retirement? Is it because he felt that my work was going in a direction that he didn’t agree with? I don’t know, and I perhaps never will. But what I do know is that a better way is possible.
Like many graduate employees, I chose Penn State because it provided the resources and promised the training I needed to become a competent researcher. I did not choose to attend a university where I would experience abuse and neglect from my faculty mentors. And yet, that is exactly what I received. My close friends, colleagues, and informal mentors helped to see me through. It is this type of community a union helps foster. A community that can lead to success in the face of overwhelming adversity.


This blog post was contributed by Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, Sociology and Demography

An International Student’s Guide to Unionization

Can international graduate students unionize?

Yes! Many graduate employee unions include large numbers of international graduate employees, not only as members, but as leaders who advocate for improved working conditions. Benefits of unionization like stable healthcare and summer funding may be of special importance to international graduate student workers.

Will supporting the union affect my visa status?

Unionization will not affect your visa status. All workers on nonimmigrant visas (including student visas) in the United States are able to unionize and are protected by the same laws as US citizens when it comes to speaking up about your rights. This means that you cannot be fired from your position due to your support of the union, and retaliation for any union activity is against the law.  

What have graduate unions done for international students?

A number of graduate student unions have formed committees to address issues specific to international student employees and have won enforceable improvements in their contracts. Below are some of the successes that graduate employee unions have won for international graduate employees.

  • A smoother tax procedure: At Columbia University, graduate employees mobilized to make the  complicated process of filing taxes more manageable for international graduate employees. There, international students experienced a massive delay in receiving tax returns and the University was slow to act. The international student working group of the Graduate Workers of Columbia University mobilized their membership and collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding action and successfully pressured the university to take action.

  • Elimination of visa fees: At the University of Washington, the graduate employees have won language in their union contract that prevents the university from imposing visa fees on international graduate students, including those who are not currently working as graduate assistants. This encompasses any fees associated with visas, including SEVIS fees. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, graduate workers utilized the union grievance procedure (see below) to argue that forcing international students to pay fees that US citizens do not pay was discriminatory. The decision was upheld by a third-party arbitrator and the university was ordered to refund all students who had paid the fee.

  • Expedited grievance procedures for unjust terminations: For international students whose visas are tied to their academic program status, being forced out of a program may be especially devastating and often means leaving the country. The union grievance procedure is a formal process that allows workers who have been unjustly terminated to fight back in a timely way before having to leave the US. Graduate employees also may request union representation during the grievance process, which means that they do not have to navigate the process alone. Graduate students at the University of Connecticut have negotiated such protections, and postdoctoral scholars have won expedited grievance procedures in their contract at UMass Amherst.  

  • Access for undocumented graduate students: Graduate Students at the University of California have also won protections and equal opportunity guarantees for undocumented graduate student workers in their union contracts, such as equal access to teaching assistant and graduate student instructor positions and equal opportunity in career development support.

  • Influenced US immigration policy beyond the university: Through our collective power, graduate worker unions have had a powerful voice in shaping US immigration policies that directly affect international graduate students. The graduate student union at Columbia helped protect the the 17 month Optional Professional Training (OPT) program for STEM graduates (which exists in addition to the 12 month OPT program) by submitting comments to the Department of Homeland Security. This is the primary way that international graduate students secure work authorization in the US after graduation and before moving to another visa category, such as an H1-B. Graduate worker unions also helped block the recent discriminatory muslim ban by filing documents with the courts in Washington State, which led to a district court decision that was key in overturning the ban at the federal level. Graduate student unions at the University of California and at the University of Washington have also played an active role in mobilizing for DREAM Act legislation at the state level.

What can a graduate employee union do for international graduate students here at Penn State?

Many international students here on campus were recently affected by an abrupt and confusing change in travel policies after the initial executive order. In response, President Barron vaguely advised all international members of the campus community not to travel. At the University of Washington, the graduate worker union demanded that any such changes be subject to bargaining, meaning that all graduate workers would have a voice in determining policies and their impact. A graduate employee union at Penn State could protect international graduate students’ legal rights and be a platform from which they can advocate for a more welcoming Penn State.

 

Additional Information:

 

Disputed Authorship

In a recent letter to the Penn State community, President Eric Barron wrote that those in the administration “do not believe a collective bargaining agreement with a union—which is designed to serve the interests of a collective whole and the union itself, rather than individual students—could ever best serve the needs of our graduate student.” I disagree with President Barron. My individual needs were served by my graduate employee union during my time as a graduate student at The University of California.

I was not actively involved in my graduate union. Like my car insurance, I only thought about it when my boring friend in the insurance industry or my boring friend involved in my graduate union told me about their boring day. Fortunately for me, this boring friend encouraged me to approach my graduate union about an authorship dispute I was having with my advisor.

I had performed experiments that were the primary component of a manuscript our lab was preparing for publication. After reviewing the manuscript, I realized that my name was not included in the author list. Concerned, I approached my advisor. My advisor’s response was that I merely “assisted” with these experiments. Besides, there were already too many authors on the manuscript. That never looks good. Days after bringing my concern to my graduate union (thanks to the advice of my boring friend), I was included as an author on the disputed manuscript.

The UC system offers some of the most competitive and well-funded graduate and professional positions in the country. As a graduate employee in the UC system, I was often reminded of this fact by my peers and faculty mentors. I was also reminded that my individual needs were being served by my graduate union.

President Barron also wrote that, “graduate student unionization has the potential to impact not only current students at Penn State, but also students for decades to come and the community as a whole.” In this regard, I agree with President Barron. A graduate employee union has the potential to benefit current and future students of Penn State for decades to come just like my graduate student union benefited me.

– Graduate Employee, College of Agricultural Sciences

Graduate Unions Across the Country

CGE at Penn State joins a long and illustrious history of graduate employees demanding a say in their working conditions. In Pennsylvania alone, we join Temple University, who won their case at the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board and were officially declared employees in 2001. As we continue striving for representation, better working conditions, and solidarity at Penn State, we’d like to take a look at the victories of other successful graduate unions across the country.

Contracts (University of Iowa)

  • Graduate employee union contracts cover a number of benefits for their members, and the graduate employees at the University of Iowa’s benefits have increased substantially since their union formed in 1996. In their first contract in 1996, they won a base salary increase, legal grievance procedure, health care plan, and clear policies regarding sick leave, family illness leave, bereavement leave, and time off over breaks between semesters. In the following years, they bargained for affordable dental care, mental health care, transparent summer pay rates, and legal representation in cases of workplace discrimination. The contract also protected salaries and health insurance against the nationwide university budget cuts in 2002-2003. Since then, their contract has continuously evolved to better protect and serve graduate employees.

Health Care (University of Missouri)

Representation in the Case of Sexual Harassment (University of Connecticut)

  • The graduate employee union at the University of Connecticut recently saw a success with regards to legal representation in a case of sexual harassment. After going through the university sanctioned process to report sexual harassment from a professor, one graduate student was told that she could not be believed because there was not sufficient evidence. Lacking both university and departmental support, the woman could not imagine continuing grad school, nor did she have job prospects if she were to quit. She turned to the graduate employee union. The union provided legal support, an outside grievance process, a third party for mediation, and the solidarity necessary for the woman to continue her studies at UConn.

Tuition Waiver Protection (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

  • After first seeing  their tuition waivers threatened in 2009, the unionized graduate employees of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign won protection for tuition waivers in 2013, guaranteeing that graduate employees won't need to pay for the education necessary to teach and research.

Recognition of Labor (University of Michigan)

  • The graduate employee union at the University of Michigan agreed on a contract with the university just last week. After three sit-ins and months of negotiation, the graduate employees have won a number of benefits including pay for the labor they do for the university’s diversity programs and an annual wage increase of 3.35% for the next three years.

These victories show that solidarity works in demanding fair treatment from the university. CGE continues to celebrate the successes of our fellow graduate employee organizations, and we hope to see similar victories for Penn State in the future. As united graduate employees across the US have already demonstrated, a better university is possible.

If you have any questions or want to get involved, come to our Coffee Hours at Websters on Wednesday from 3-6 or one of our open meetings every other Tuesday at 6 in the Municipal Building.

Letter from a Lion

My Dear Nittany Lions,

Greetings from a Mizzou Tiger and proud former Penn Stater. My name is Natalie McCabe. I attended the Schreyer Honors College and received my BA in Theatre and Minor in International Arts at PSU in 2007. The same year, my husband, Jean-Gerald Tartiere, graduated with his MFA in Acting from Penn State’s acclaimed School of Theatre. I am now at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where I am a doctoral candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies. I am also a proud department representative to the Coalition of Graduate Workers (CGW).

I am writing to encourage you to support a graduate student union at Penn State. My husband’s three years in State College were wonderful overall, with a supportive faculty and staff, teaching assistantship, and health insurance. I would like you to also have that same invaluable experience and solid guarantees for all of the hard work you and we all do as graduate student-workers.

Here at the University of Missouri, my department’s faculty and staff are equally supportive, but I have dealt with significant issues that a union could most certainly have addressed or even prevented. During my first pregnancy, I lived in university-run graduate student housing in an apartment complex called University Village. Despite knowing the dangerous structural problems of the unit in this university housing complex, the university continued to allow graduate students and their families such as myself and my husband to live there… until a walkway partially collapsed, killing a firefighter attempting to evacuate the occupants of that building. I was forced to move in my third trimester during the end of my first school year. When that apartment complex was torn down, so was the only Student Parent Daycare Center on campus. A similar daycare option was never reopened. A graduate student union could have worked to ensure strict safety standards in that apartment complex and the continued presence of an affordable Student Parent Daycare Center on campus.

During my second pregnancy, the university took away graduate student health insurance abruptly, with little warning. The next business day, I miscarried and spent far too much time at home before seeking medical care due to my new lack of insurance. A graduate student union could have worked to ensure maintenance of the health insurance that was promised in our offer letters.

I urge you to support a graduate student union so that your benefits are never threatened. So that your stipends and compensation are at an appropriate level for your work load. So that you can focus on your classwork and research, not on whether or not you can afford your rent, childcare, or a doctor’s visit. Continue to help “Happy Valley” live up to its name because, ultimately, We Are Penn State and should remain proud to be so, together.

Sincerely,
Natalie McCabe

Demystifying Pennsylvania Graduate Union Legislation

Graduate employee unions are not new to the state of Pennsylvania. The path to graduate unionization, as cleared by Temple University’s legal precedent in 2000, is a democratic one. Here, we will demystify what that process should look like and what has changed since the university decided to block that path.

The process:

  • A group of interested graduate employees (CGE in this case) collects cards with signatures from other graduate employees showing interest in holding a vote for a union.

  • CGE submits those cards to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB), who confirms the card count.

  • The PLRB holds a conference call with the organizing graduate body and the university to identify who will be in the union.

  • If both parties are in agreement, it moves on to an election. If there is a disagreement, it goes to a hearing in front of the PLRB.

Updates:

As many of you may know, CGE completed the card collection in February and filed with PLRB for a vote. The conference call was held on April 6th. During this call, the university challenged the fact that we are employees, thus challenging our right to form a union. The next step will be a hearing at the PLRB. When Temple University took the matter to the PLRB in 2000, the board ruled unequivocally that “graduate assistants are ‘employees’ […] and may properly exercise collective bargaining rights in relation to wages, hours and working conditions.” After the PLRB ruled in their favor, Temple graduate employees voted 94% to 6% in favor of unionization. We anticipate that this precedent will work in our favor.

We are frustrated that the university is delaying the process. We hoped that the many cards demonstrating graduate employee interest in a democratic vote would be enough to show the university that we can — and should — decide for ourselves whether a union is right for graduate employees at Penn State. In accordance with our values of openness and solidarity, we at CGE will continue respecting our fellow graduate employees’ ability to make decisions by demystifying the legal process and providing resources for learning about unionization.

If you have any further questions, please join us at our open meeting on Tuesday, April 11th at 6PM in the Municipal building (room 220) or at our coffee hours on Wednesday, April 18th from 3-6 at Websters. More information about these events can be found here and on our facebook page.

Is This What Open Dialogue Looks Like?

In a disappointing phone call on April 6th to determine the right of graduate assistants to organize between the Penn State administration, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB), and the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), we learned that Penn State plans to double down on their argument that graduate employees are NOT employees. They plan to challenge the legal precedent classifying graduate assistants as employees and allowing them to unionize. In 2001, Temple University graduate employees voted to unionize. When the PLRB ruled in support of this right to vote, administration at Temple chose to accept the decision rather than continue obstructing their graduate employees’ rights.

By challenging this decision in court, Penn State is making an aggressive and costly move to prevent graduate employees from having a fair voice in their workplace. Essentially, Penn State administration is attempting to overturn a well established legal precedent for the sake of further delaying our right to vote on a union. This week, the Penn State community received emails from both President Barron and Graduate Dean Younken. Both expressed an explicit desire to maintain open dialogue with graduate employees. As graduate employees looking for a seat at the table where administrators make decisions about our lives and our workplaces, we could not agree more. We are disappointed that administration continues to refuse to recognize our labor by acknowledging our status as employees.

Further, we are frustrated that the administration does not respect our right to decide amongst ourselves by holding a vote on unionization. After a year of campaigning and talking to graduate employees, we collected hundreds of signatures declaring support for a vote on unionization. As Dean Younken wrote in her email, “as scholars pursuing advanced degrees, your training emphasizes drawing conclusions based upon facts, and evidence-based decision-making.” We hope that the administration begins to respect our ability to research, our intellectual labor, and our right to a democratic process by ceasing to obstruct our path to a vote.

Going forward, CGE remains committed to strengthening our organization by continuing to foster relationships with other graduate employees and employee advocacy groups on campus. Though we are frustrated that the administration continues to deny our right to a free and fair election to unionize and has chosen to take the drastic step to obstruct this democratic process, we will continue to foster solidarity amongst our fellow graduate employees. As always, in keeping with our value of open dialogue, CGE remains willing to meet with President Barron to discuss how we can proceed in an amicable and mutually respectful manner.

Smoothing the Stair

Don’t you set down on the steps ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

-Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes

 

To borrow language from Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son, life as a Penn State graduate employee “ain’t been no crystal stair.” As a black, gay, first-generation PhD student enrolled in a predominantly white institution, I have encountered both the general hardships experienced by most (if not all) graduate employees as well as specific barriers brought on by my race and sexuality. If it were not for the support and sense of solidarity I have drawn from my close friends and family, I would have failed.

My training in sociology makes me fully aware of the power of a supportive network in helping individuals succeed. I am also aware that for many graduate employees of color in a predominantly white institution, these networks may simply not exist. Indeed, for all five years of my enrollment, I have been the only black male graduate employee in the sociology department. Feelings of isolation and loneliness began to take their toll on my mental and physical health early on in my career here. Racially fueled abuses, slights, and microaggressions committed by people with significantly more power than me filled me with despair and caused me to question my very self-worth.  There were times when I felt like leaving Penn State without the coveted PhD and returning home to a disappointed mother. Fortunately, I was able to forge relationships with other students of color across the university, including close bonds with the three black women in my department. With them, I felt empowered. By no longer feeling alone, I was able to face the challenges of graduate school head-on.

As rough and splinter-filled as the “stair” that is graduate school has been for me, my story has a happy ending. Upon graduating this August, I will begin my career as a tenure-track professor of sociology at Missouri State University. In a way, you could say that I was successful in spite of the roadblocks and obstacles placed in front of me. I relied on a close network of trusted mentors, friends, and family who helped me navigate the often-times racist and unsupportive environment of my department. If it weren’t for them, there quite literally wouldn’t be a me.

So why am I pushing so hard for a graduate employee union? Why am I diverting precious time from writing my dissertation to speak out on behalf of the Coalition of Graduate Employees and their mission of graduate employee advocacy and unionization? Why don’t I simply lay low and bide my time until I move on to Missouri State? The answers to these questions are simple: I believe that the success of graduate students of color at predominantly white institutions relies on the lessening of the power differential between university administration and graduate employees.  With a union that emphasizes emphasizes empathy and solidarity, graduate employees of color will find it easier to have their issues addressed and thrive in this academic environment. I don’t want future students to have to go through what I went through. I want them to come to a university where students stand together in solidarity.

Though the splinter-filled stair to the PhD will never be crystal, it is my strong belief that a graduate employee union will help smooth it out.  


This blog post was contributed by Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, a PhD candidate and graduate employee in the Sociology Department.

Reply All: “Graduate Student Union”

"Penn State's valued relationship with its graduate students: President Eric Barron's letter to the University community. April 3, 2017."

What an appropriate choice of date. Three years ago today, many of those fighting for union representation of graduate employees were on the Old Main lawn, rallying to protect affordable health care for students.

"A group seeking to represent all graduate assistants and fellows at Penn State filed a petition on Feb. 22, 2017, for union representation with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB)."

A group of graduate employees delivered the signatures of graduate employees in a petition to allow us to vote on whether to be represented by a union. Specifically, we sought out the Pennsylvania State Education Association for their experience representing educators and the resources they’ve made available to the student body leadership. CGE remains, first and foremost, a group of Penn State graduate employees.

"Universities are marketplaces of free ideas and expression, and I encourage an open dialogue about graduate student unionization at Penn State. As we begin to discuss these issues, I want to convey a few thoughts to the Penn State community about the University’s view on how graduate student unionization impacts Penn State's academic mission."

Only university administration can disseminate information through means such as mass emails to the entire Penn State  community (like this message), top headlines in Penn State News (like  this morning’s), or official graduate school FAQs and email addresses (see below). If they choose to leverage this power in attempt to sway a union election, they are not promoting open dialogue, but are instead disseminating one-sided information. Despite our having an active web page and social media presence, there are no links to the CGE or even mention of us by name in the email. Further, President Barron’s refusal to meet with us certainly does not constitute the “open dialogue” he claims to encourage.

"As a public research university, Penn State is committed to the successful intellectual and professional development of its graduate students. We view our graduate students as students first and foremost. They are our mentees, future scholars and, potentially, our future colleagues. Penn State does not oppose the concept of unions or the unionization of employees. However, the University’s relationship with our students is fundamentally different from that of an employer and employee. For this reason, Penn State opposes this petition for representation with the PLRB."

Here, Penn State runs counter to both the National and Pennsylvania Labor Relations Boards who have declared that graduate assistants are both students and employees because they do work, get paid, and contribute substantially to the mission of the university. The university claims to know the needs of graduate employees better than the employees themselves. Furthermore, Penn State is not respecting the right of graduate employees to deliberate and decide amongst themselves by remaining neutral.

"Graduate students are integral to the Penn State educational experience, and graduate student unionization has the potential to impact not only current students at Penn State, but also students for decades to come and the community as a whole. I hope everyone within the Penn State community will take the opportunity to become informed about the topic of graduate student unionization. Many resources are available, including those on gradfacts.psu.edu/union."

We do hope that a graduate employee union will impact future students at Penn State. With union support, future graduate employees might hold some power in the decision-making processes that directly affect their lives such as changes in health care, stipends, child care, teaching loads, and transportation. We also hope that a union would make graduate work at Penn State accessible and welcoming for all students regardless of their individual needs. The resources provided by the administration, however, do not acknowledge these benefits of graduate employee solidarity, but rather present a biased view of what unions would mean for administration.

"We are proud of our graduate students and the numerous ways in which they contribute to Penn State and the community. When aspiring graduate students apply for admission to Penn State, they are accepted based on their outstanding academic achievements, their scholarly and professional interests and, as a hallmark of graduate education, their individuality. Our programs are tailored to the individual students within them, and our faculty work collaboratively with their students to advise and support them in their learning and research endeavors. During my time as a graduate student, the most seminal experiences of my graduate career were interactions with faculty as mentors and collaborators."

President Barron chooses not to mention the fact that an increasing portion of the university's labor is conducted by graduate employees and lecturers. Departments are quite intentional in recruiting students who will meet the needs of their labs/courses/etc. While they do not recognize our status as employees, we make up much of the labor force as teachers and researchers. Like administration, we also believe in the benefit of healthy collaboration with faculty. Solidarity amongst graduate employees would ensure that these relationships with faculty remain safe and fair while maintaining their intellectual rigor.

"While we understand that there may be issues upon which we can improve, we are committed to doing so in ways that best protect the varying needs of our diverse graduate student population. We do not believe a collective bargaining agreement with a union – which is designed to serve the interests of a collective whole and the union itself, rather than individual students – could ever best serve the needs of our graduate students or the University. In fact, we believe it could impede the academic and mentoring relationships Penn State has with its graduate students."

The university ignores the fundamental principles of unionization: fair representation, equal bargaining rights, and protections for individual employees that do not rely on the voluntary cooperation of the institution in admitting and remedying their faults. They assume that a collective organization made up of graduate employees will represent the individual interests of those employees less adequately than the administration employing them, while insinuating that organizers are some sort of outside interest group, which is not the case. Furthermore, the university ignores the body of evidence that shows that graduate unions improve the work environment for individual members.

"If anyone has questions or concerns about unionization or any other matter impacting our graduate students, please visit gradfacts.psu.edu/union or reach out to gradinfo@psu.edu.

Sincerely,

Eric J. Barron, President"

We at CGE believe that you deserve open dialogue with your administration. We have provided resources here and on our blog to better understand the slanted information that the university has provided on these sites. We would also encourage you to do your own research (one of the things graduate employees do best) if you wish. And if you do have questions about CGE, we’d love to hear from you.