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.