We’ve received a fair amount of questions, both online and in townhalls, about what Penn State will look like in the days and months after we vote to unionize. How will we negotiate with Penn State? What happens to offers already made to new graduate assistants? How will things change?
Before getting into the nitty gritty, we want to make sure one thing is clear: Everyone’s day-to-day activities will not change a whole lot. Research assistants will still go to their labs and offices, teaching assistants will still hold office hours and grade papers, and graduate assistants will still sit behind desks helping people. In fact, as official bargaining agents, Penn State will not be able to change anything that could affect graduate assistants without negotiation.
What will change is that we will start moving towards negotiation. The first step will be to bring into the conversation a diverse group of RAs and TAs from the different campuses and programs/departments so we can establish the process for electing our bargaining team. The main priority is that the bargaining team be as representational as possible so the team can successfully administer bargaining surveys across the various campuses, departments and programs and so they will have a successful plan to bargain with Penn State. Importantly, this team will be democratically elected by graduate assistants.
This team will also be able to request information from Penn State that will ensure that they have the knowledge to negotiate with Penn State administrators on an even playing field. This is one of the benefits of having a union; we are able to get information from Penn State that allows us to be equal partners in discussions. The team will also work to decide who will internally be in charge, who will be in the room with Penn State during meetings, etc.
As this bargaining team works to negotiate with Penn State we will also be building out our own organization. This will happen through elections of union leadership, starting with departmental stewards. Stewards are departmental representatives that are in charge of bringing the interests of their department to the larger union membership.
The bargaining team will be accountable to us. What that means is that they will not have final say on the contract. Once they have come to an agreement with Penn State, union members will then be able to vote on the contract. If the contract is approved, it will soon after be implemented. If it is not approved, the bargaining team will go back to the table until we have a contract that works for us.
We can’t be certain how long this will take, but until then we can be certain that our current contracts will stay in place and any offers made to new graduate assistants will be honored. We can also be certain that we will get a chance to vote on our contract to make sure it’s a contract that works for us.