Graduate Employees Together - University of Pennsylvania

Graduate Employees Together - University of Pennsylvania

Infobox Union
name= GET-UP
country= United States
affiliation= AFT
full_name= Graduate Employees Together - University of Pennsylvania

founded= 2001
website= []

Graduate Employees Together - University of Pennsylvania (GET-UP) is a group of graduate student employees at the University of Pennsylvania that is trying to become recognized as a union. The group formed in the spring of 2001, and affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. The group has not been recognized by the University as a union for the purposes of collective bargaining.



While graduate employee unions are commonplace outside of the USA they exist at less than half of American public universities, and there has been only one recognized union at a private American university. The first graduate employee union in the USA was formed in 1970 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when the [ Teaching Assistants Association] won recognition and its first contract. Between 1970 and 2000 graduate employees organized many unions at public universities, and today an estimated 20% of graduate employees in the US work under a collective bargaining agreement. Graduate employee unions did not exist at private universities until October 2000, when the NLRB ruled in the landmark case of GSOC at New York University (NYU) that graduate employees at private universities are to be considered employees according to the definition put forth in the National Labor Relations Act.

GET-UP Certification Campaign

A flurry of student initiated organizing activity took place at private universities in the wake of the 2000 NLRB decision. By the end of 2001 there were active recognition campaigns taking place at many Ivy League schools, including UPenn. The Penn campaign started when a diverse group of graduate students began meeting in the fall of 2000 to discuss concerns related to their employment status. At that point Penn did not pay the health insurance premium for any graduate students and West Philadelphia rents had risen by an unprecedented amount (~50%) in the three years prior with stipends not keeping pace. Fact|date=April 2007 It became clear that there was significant interest in forming a union to deal with these issues. The group chose the name GET-UP and began interviewing representatives from national unions. A vote was taken by the students and the decision was made to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. The new union began a certification card drive, and on December 27, 2001 GET-UP filed a petition to the NLRB for a union authorization election.

In response to the authorization petition the University hired the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll to appeal the right of their graduate employees to form a union. The University spent three weeks calling witnesses from the administration to testify that the graduate students that perform work for pay were not employees. After the administration had exhausted its list of witnesses GET-UP spent a half day making their case, and on November 21, 2002 the NLRB ruled in GET-UP's favor. As a result of the decision a certification election was scheduled for February 26, 2003.

GET-UP Authorization Election

The university's graduate student governments (GAPSA and GSAC) both quickly passed resolutions declaring neutrality in the campaign, and no prominent student led anti-union campaign developed. The University ran a fierce anti-union campaign, sending anti-union pamphlets to graduate student mailboxes almost every day. The graduate employees making up the union campaigned by meeting with students face to face, with posters, pamphlets and department meetings. The election finally took place during a particularly cold spell in the city of Philadelphia, but despite the weather voter turn out appeared to be large. Fact|date=April 2007 As soon as the election was over the University appealed the right of graduate students to hold a union election to the National Board (the 2002 decision that graduate students are employees was made by a regional board of the NLRB).

During the appeal process the votes were locked away by the NLRB and were not counted. The only indication of how the vote went comes from an exit poll taken by UPenn's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. The DP's exit poll indicated that GET-UP won the election, with 60.4% responding that they wanted a union, 35% opposed to it, and with 4.6% of those surveyed not revealing their opinion. [] . The period in which the votes were locked away saw a continually increasing GET-UP presence on campus, with many rallies, petitions, and letters urging the University to "count the votes".

Election Anniversary Strike

After a year of increasing pressure from GET-UP and its allies failed to convince the University to drop its appeal and allow the NLRB to count the ballots cast in the certification election the union members felt that a significant action was necessary to move the process forward. At the Spring 2004 GET-Up general membership meeting, after a half hour debate, an 83 percent majority voted to withdraw their labor on the two days of the election's anniversary. [] The plan was not for a full academic strike, as GET-UP did not ask professors to cancel classes or for undergrads not to attend. Rather, the membership approved of the limited strike as a way of demonstrating their seriousness while still giving the University a chance to drop its appeal and negotiate. The strike saw hundreds of graduate employees picketing at seven points around the campus for two full days. For some members, including several Chinese graduate student employees, picketing during the strike marked the first time they had ever participated in a demonstration. There was debate among undergrads, grad students, grad employees, and faculty about whether the limited strike was a good tactic or not, with people from all four groups both for and against the strike. During the week of the strike a petition of professors calling on the administration to drop its appeal grew to three times its length, with 97 signatories. [] One of the most concrete results to come out of the strike was that the Undergraduate Assembly passed a resolution calling for immediate negotiations between the administration and GET-UP. 18 members of that body voted in favor, four opposed the resolution, and four abstained. []

2004 NLRB National Board Decision

At the very start of the fall semester of 2004 the National Labor Relations Board announced a complete reversal of its 2000 decision in the case of NYU in a 3-2 decision regarding graduate employees at Brown University. The Republican controlled board stated in their decision that "there is a significant risk, even a strong likelihood, that the collective-bargaining process will be detrimental to the educational process." The dissenting opinion stated that "Today's decision is woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality", and further that "It disregards the plain language of" Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which "defines employees so broadly that graduate students who perform services for, and under the control of, their universities are easily covered". With the new board's decision a regional board of the NLRB ruled that the decision also applied in Penn's case. As a result the votes cast in the 2004 election will never be counted and unfair labor practice charges were also dropped, as graduate employees at private Universities are no longer protected employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

Since The 2004 Decision

While the NLRB decision strips graduate employees of their rights to protection as employees under the law it in no way disallows graduate employees to form unions. The history of the labor movement is filled with cases where employees forced their employers to recognize them. Fact|date=April 2007 The National Labor Relations Act itself was brought about to make it easier for employees to form unions. Fact|date=April 2007 The act states that "It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection". []

In light of the contentious 3-2 decision by the labor relations board which is seemingly in contradiction with the definition of employees in the act Fact|date=April 2007, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) called upon GET-UP to testify before the U. S. Senate Appropriations Committee on September 23, 2004. The union was very active in campaigning and get out the vote efforts during John Kerry's presidential campaign, and has continued to push for improvements in graduate employee working conditions in the last year.


Graduate employees from many different fields have filled leadership roles in GET-UP. In the past few years chairs and co-chairs have been drawn from the History, Education, Linguistics, Comparative Literature, English, and Political Science departments. Leadership has been diverse both in terms of the fields from which it has been drawn from as well as in terms of gender and international student representation. Four of the six currently elected officers are female.

Stipend increases before and after the formation of GET-UP

Graduate student stipend information from some previous years is available in archival articles from the Daily Pennsylvanian. The minimum 9 month stipend in the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) for the 1988-1989 academic year was $7,000 [] .By the 2000-2001 academic year, the year that GET-UP was created, the stipend had increased to $12,000 [] . This represents a twelve year average increase of 4.6% per year. In the 2001-2002 academic year the University announced that that SAS would begin to cover the health insurance costs of graduate employees, which resulted in a large effective salary increase [] . When Amy Gutmann became the president of Penn one of her first acts was to announce that in the following year the SAS minimum would increase to $17,500 [] . (The figure $17,500 was the figure demanded by GET-UP in their first official platform.) This means that since the formation of GET-UP the minimum stipend has increased by an average of 7.8% per year.

Criticism of GET-UP

As is usual during a unionization drive there is not unanimous approval or dissaproval, neither among graduate employees, graduate students, undergraduates, faculy, nor staff. Some specific criticisms that opponents have levied are as follows:

*As it would only represent graduate employees GET-UP would not represent all graduate students. As can be gleaned from the DP exit poll, many graduate employees have no desire to unionize [] [] . As mentioned earlier, the two official graduate student government groups have taken a neutral stance towards unionization. [] .
*Teaching assistants and research assistants already receive full-tuition benefits, essentially receiving an Ivy League education for free. Demanding anything else in addition has been considered excessive by a commentator to the Daily Pennsylvanian [] .
*The Undergraduate Assembly condemned GET-UP's 2004 strike, claiming that it negatively affected undergraduate education [] . Some students were upset that the strike occurred during a critical exam period [] .
*GET-UP distributed pamphlets which were critical of the University to visiting prospective undergraduates [] .
*The organization emphasizes in published material how many undergraduate classes are not taught by professors, but neglects to note that lecturers largely make up the remainder of instructors, not graduate students [] .
*GET-UP protested at former President Judith Rodin's farewell and President Amy Gutmann's subsequent inauguration. [] .

See also

*American Federation of Teachers
*Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions
*Graduate Employees and Students Organization - Yale graduate employee union
*Graduate Student Organizing Committee - New York University graduate employee union
*Temple University Graduate Students Association

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