Graduates Entitled To Decide Now

At A Glance

  • What is going on?!?
    Penn graduates with legal backing are trying to unionize and form a single union than encapsulates all Penn graduate students across all schools and departments. We need to be informed, read more…. <!– We ask that those opposed to the union please sign this petition.–> Check out the GSEG hosted info session on unionization here.  UPDATE: The petition was submitted to the NLRB on 5/30/17. The current bargaining unit is: 

    • NLRB Case 04-RC-199609

      Included: All graduate students who provide instructional services and/or perform research, including but not limited to Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Research Assistants, Research Fellows, Educational Fellowship Recipients, Student Workers and Pre-Doctoral Trainees employed by the Employer in the following schools: Annenburg School of
      Communication, Biomedical Graduate Studies, School of Design, Graduate School of Education, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing and School of Social Policy and Practice. Excluded: All other employees, student employees at other schools, office clerical employees, guards and supervisors as defined in the Act.

  • What can a union affect? 
    • Pay (current stipend vs union stipend with unknown yearly percentage dues).
    • Maternity/Paternity Leave – Temple’s grad student union affiliated with AFT only gets 5 days paid maternity leave.
    • Working hours (current flexible hours vs. possible union set hours, could affect conference deadlines).
    • Healthcare (current healthcare which we all have vs. whatever the union negotiates).
    • Insurance (more liability if you unintentionally break equipment or a device,)
    • Vacation time (no flexibility, could affect VISA renewal periods)
    • Coursework (number of courses, mandatory training sessions, teaching requirements may change)
  • Who will be affected?
    You! Why? If you are a graduate student paid by the university you will be automatically enrolled. Once your school is enrolled it can not easily opt out of the existing union. However a school can easily opt in if it is not initially a part of the bargaining unit.  Those involved:

    • Doctoral students
    • Master students (receiving any income from university)
    • Graduate Teaching Assistants
    • Graduate Research Assistants
    • International and American Citizens
  • What is going to happen?
    With no established union contract, the future is truly uncertain.
  • How could this affect me?
    Union negotiations with Penn may drastically change the current working relationship between graduate students and the University.

    • An example: Given the pro-union stipulations, the university could require that every quarter/semester ’employee’ graduates have mandatory performance reviews with consequences reflecting a poorly performing ’employee’ during ‘unproductive’ periods. Realistically, there are periods where graduates produce no output that is financially beneficial (personal edification) to the university as an employees would and must at all times. 
  • How can I help?
    1. Be informed  2. VOTE! and please VOTE NO  3. After being informed… Help us help you please sign up!.
  • Why Should I Vote No Union?
    We feel that not all other alternatives to a union have been explored, and rushing to form a union this semester (Spring 2017 April, May vote) with the uncertainty of a contract and ability to represent the entire graduate student body (change in working conditions/hours, stipend, possibility of lockouts of labs and facilities of graduates if union and administration disagreements were to seriously escalate: its unreasonable to assume that this is an impossibility if a union-employer relationship is established.) This could have serious negative outcomes and therefore is not responsible.  Lets stop and think, and see if we can first find a better alternative to a union, one that meets the needs but does not require outside influence as the proposed union strategy requires.
  • Example at Cornell (source:
    • Students at Cornell tried and were unsuccessful at unionizing, their pro-union group CGSU,  was ultimately very unhappy with AFT as they felt they were ultimately not given the voice they were promised when they disagreed with AFT.
    • AFT followed a ‘one size fit all’ model that sidelined certain students  overruled them when they voiced their concerns and issues.
    • AFT model Completely ignored the concept of ‘recognition election’ which would allow students to make a choice if they want to be a part of the unionization effort demonstrating extreme ignorance and absolute ignorance.
    • AFT Organizing Model This model relies almost exclusively on “management” and “assessment” of membership by pairing union members with staff organizers to seek out graduate workers in the bargaining unit for two-on-one conversations. Rather than building collective power via informing, empowering and engaging, this model simply inscribes subordinate relations within the 
  • Oops! I signed up, but now that I know more I regret this, what can I do?
    You have the right to ask for your card back. Then please email us at or the contact form with your experience.
  • Sign our Petition to remove your school from the bargaining unit.

  • Check out the GSEG hosted Unionization info session with participation from GETUP, GETDN and No Penn Union on this tab

Who We Are: 

We are graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania who empathize with issues raised by other activists students. We are dedicated to find viable solutions that raise the quality of life for all University of Pennsylvania Graduate Students.  We believe that the proposed union structure may not be the best way to bring the administration to the table and simultaneously serve the community at large. We are dedicated to finding viable alternatives that would address the current issues. In addition we recognize the advantage of having an institution that serves as an unbiased support structure for graduate students and would like to work with students and administration to explore alternative options to a union before establishing the proposed union. Please visit the FAQ for a snapshot of the situation.

What We Believe: 

We believe that we are in an amazing university with many talented academics. We believe that everyone should have high quality of life here at UPenn. We would like to see work conditions improve for all graduate students. However we believe that for graduate students, having a Union is not the best (and is certainly not the only) way.

What We Want:

If we are not given the right to choose who is a part of the bargaining unit, we ask that all students vote NO, until a fair bargaining unit can be constructed, providing this freedom to schools and departments.

We simply ask that the union supporters and NLRB work with us to develop a survey that gives each department, and ultimately school, the choice to be a part of the bargaining unit, (a department wise union is employed at Yale University). An example survey would consist of questions in the following fashion:

  1. Would you like there to be a graduate union (yes/no)
  2. What is your primary school and department: ____________

Based on this outcome if the majority of a school wishes to join the union or does not vote then the graduate students in that school/department become part of the union. If the majority of graduate students in a school/department vote to not join the union, they are removed from the bargaining unit (will not be required to pay dues and will not be represented by the union body and their programs will remain run by current administration procedure).

We know that this is an option and is possible because on the NLRB website it says: 

“To start the election process, a petition and associated documents must be filed, preferably electronically, with the nearest NLRB Regional Office showing support for the petition from at least 30% of employees. NLRB agents will then investigate to make sure the Board has jurisdiction, the union is qualified, and there are no existing labor contracts or recent elections that would bar an election. Shortly after the petition is filed, the employer is required to post a Notice of Petition for Election in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted. If the employer customarily communicates with employees in the petitioned-for unit through electronic means, the employer must also distribute the Notice of Petition for Election electronically to those employees.

The NLRB agents will seek an election agreement between the employer, union, and other parties setting the date, time, and place for balloting, the ballot language(s), the appropriate unit, and a method to determine who is eligible to vote. Once an agreement is reached, the parties authorize the NLRB Regional Director to conduct the election. If no agreement is reached, the Regional Director will hold a hearing and then may order an election and set the conditions in accordance with the Board’s rules and its decisions.

Typically, elections are held on the earliest practicable date after a Director’s order or authorization, which will vary from case to case. However, an election may be postponed if a party requests to block the petition based on charges alleging conduct that would interfere with employee free choice in the election, such as threatening loss of jobs or benefits by an employer or a union, granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to influence the vote. When an election is scheduled, the Employer is required to post a Notice of Election which will replace the previously posted Notice of Petition for Election.

When a union is already in place, a competing union may file an election petition if the labor contract has expired or is about to expire, and it can show interest by at least 30% of the employees. This would normally result in a three-way election, with the choices being the incumbent labor union, the challenging one, and “none.” If none of the three receives a majority vote, a runoff will be conducted between the top two vote-getters.”


We were asked by the union supporters to have faith in their motives and mission, we in turn ask that they have faith in their voter base, as our proposed solution has their original model as an option.

If we are not given the right to choose, we ask that all students vote NO, until a fair bargaining unit can be constructed, providing this freedom to schools and departments.

We also want to start a discussion about possible union alternatives which address issues but remain internal to Penn.

Is There Possible Alternative to a Union?

We explore ideas about alternatives to a union in the last section of this page  but this is and should be a conversation with all graduate students and administration, let’s start brainstorming!

In the FAQ’s we present some of the open questions we have about a graduate union here at Penn. While there are many points of concern, there is a prime example we can illustrate: if an established union were to negotiate with Penn and did not receive the recognition or their objective, then the escalation may possibly lead to a union may ultimately respond using strikes (as unions commonly do) in order to raise the balance of power.   As a graduate student one may think “no one can stop me from working…“, however if evidence of graduate work during a strike were found out (swipe card, submitted work etc)  then that student would be possibly fined or even worse, also there may simply be a lockout initiated by Penn during such a dispute which would impede access to labs and places of work, it is not reasonable to assume that these are impossibilities in such a relationship.  A student may also think “They can’t force me to pay dues…“, however again legal action could be taken to compel, or the dues could even be extracted before stipend is received. And in a union paradigm, the way funds are handled could possibly be very different from the way they are now based on negotiations.  More food for thought…

We Need Your Help

TL;DR: Become informed, VOTE NO, and if you agree with our point of view, we need evidence of your support  so we can argue for proposed change on the ballot. So sign up here for our suggested provision on the ballot.

If you agree with our point of view, then please sign up providing your graduate affiliation so we provide proof of our support base to the NLRB (Which is the Federal Institution that will Govern Our Vote). This is for all those who are eligible to vote in the Union Election (Graduate Students). 

We understand that some may be hesitant to participate on either side for whatever reason. We simply ask that you:


2. Please respect the true democratic process: even smaller groups deserve the right to have a voice during an election, if we do not have the option based on schools and departments optioning in or out of the collective bargaining unit then PLEASE VOTE NO (we ask this regardless of your politics, until we can vote again with truly democratic options). Your attention is appreciated, thank you!

If you would like to help us on the ground, please contact us as we need help informing grads of our existence and the alternatives we present.

When is the vote?

On 5/30/17 GETUP filed its petition for a union with the NLRB. Typically it takes about a month before there is a vote. The mechanism of this vote is currently unknown. We will post more information as it becomes available to us.

Oops! I signed up but I changed my mind, what can I do?

You have the right to ask for your card back. If you would like, please ask for your card back then email us at