Who started the Penn State organizing campaign?

The Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) formally started with about 20 or 30 graduate workers seeking greater job security and a voice for graduate employees on issues affecting them. However, it has been a long time in the making. For nearly three years now, graduate workers have devoted their limited free time to meet and talk with other graduate workers about improving Penn State and the process of unionization. This ad hoc group became the CGE a year and a half ago, and CGE approached PSEA about a year ago for help. Since then, many have joined us – graduate employees have attended our event or signed cards in support while faculty members have signed our letter of support. This has happened due to countless hours of volunteer work by graduate employees who believe that unionization works for graduate workers and for universities.

So, you can imagine our surprise when we discovered that Penn State seems to be confused as to who is organizing their graduate employees. At the beginning of this year, the Graduate School at Penn State re-released a memo on faculty interactions with graduate workers during this organizing campaign. Though the memo is the same as the one emailed to faculty and staff last year, a new letter was attached to the front, which you can view here (problems with the memo itself have already been discussed in other venues)

The university’s letter claims that “there is currently a campaign underway by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to unionize graduate student assistants here at Penn State,” yet CGE has always been the driving force behind this campaign. We feel that clarity is vital on this point: though PSEA has provided us with expertise, legal advice, and some resources, it has always been a democratically run effort, by and for Penn State graduate employees.

In light of this, it is undeniably strange that the university’s letter does not mention CGE at all. We have met with the administration and Graduate School leadership to discuss our reasons for organizing, so it is stranger yet that the memo itself mentions CGE only once, while mentioning PSEA 37 times. We can only assume that this is a simple mistake on their part, so we have made edits to better reflect the reality of the organizing drive – namely, one that is graduate employee-led and graduate employee-focused. A brief look at our photos, or attendance at one of our events should suffice to dispel any further doubt. A copy of our revised letter and memo can be found here, so please feel free to share it with any faculty that have questions about the campaign. We are grateful for the opportunity to clear up this misunderstanding.