Reply All: Graduate Unionization Hearing

On Thursday evening, PSU graduate workers received an email from Dean Vasilatos-Younken ‘updating’ them on the results of the legal challenge mounted by administration against its graduate employees. The email contained a number of untruths and misrepresentations, and grad employees deserve the truth. First, the Dean yet again attributed our unionization effort to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA):

“I am contacting you to provide an update on the status of the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s (PSEA) effort to unionize graduate students at Penn State”

While we are affiliated with PSEA, we stood in court as the Coalition of Graduate Employees. It was graduate employees who began this effort and graduate employees who continue to lead it. Then, Dean Vasilatos-Younken mentioned some of the witnesses who testified in court:

“More than 20 witnesses, including more than a dozen faculty members from across Penn State’s colleges, testified”

Perhaps some were faculty members, but many were also graduate employees. We spoke about the realities of graduate labor, testifying that we love our work but often perform it for low pay, unreliable healthcare, and without a say in our working conditions. Many faculty members presumed to speak for us. Do not let the university silence our voices. Finally, the email referred to graduate unionization as

    “this unsettled area of Pennsylvania law.”

Let there be no confusion on this point: this area of the law is quite settled. In October of 2000, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled that Temple University’s graduate assistants are employees. Temple is a state-related institution, just like Penn State. The co-president of Temple’s union even testified on our behalf last week. Our teaching and research labor falls under the same laws, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by administration to try to argue that we do is not work. This is an egregiously expensive attempt by administration to deliberately mislead their employees. We are teachers, researchers, and writers — administration cannot mislead us with these statements.

Your union is fighting for higher pay, better healthcare, and protection from harassment and abuse. Our teaching keeps this university running and our research is the foundation of its world-class graduate programs; we deserve to be treated with dignity. If you would like to help build a university that treats its employees honestly and respectfully, join us for our General Meeting next Thursday at 6 pm, and consider emailing gradinfo@psu.edu to let administration know what you think of their doublespeak.


In Solidarity, The Coalition of Graduate Employees