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Updates on Graduate Student Unionization

July 8, 2017



Part I. GET-UP Constitutional Referendum


The last GET-UP general meeting of the Spring semester was held on May 9, 2017. The meeting outlined GET-UP’s intention to hold a mail-in ballot to student addresses (using the most recent mailing address on Penn InTouch) and the proposed bargaining unit consisting of School of Arts and Sciences, Biomedical Graduate Studies, School of Design, Graduate School of Education, Nursing, and Social Policy and Practice, as well as a referendum on and ultimate approval of amendments to the GET-UP Constitution [1].


These amendments included:


1. Introduction of a “No Harm” Clause.


No graduate student receiving a fellowship can have their stipend or benefits reduced as part of contract negotiations.


2. Changes to the Strike Clause.


The number of votes to begin a strike will be raised to 66% of total GET-UP members. Students in STEM fields will be allowed to cross picket lines for “time-sensitive” work. The precise qualifications for this exemption are yet to be defined. In the event of a planned strike the details will be determined by one of the preexisting union committees or a strike-specific committee.


3. Changes to rules for electing GET-UP members to the GET-UP standing committees.


The first elections for the Election, Solidarity, and Grievance Committees will be held immediately after the recognition election. The Coordinating Committee that manages day-to-day operational activities will still be formed by self-appointment and meet on an ad hoc basis. For more information on GET-UP committees, please see the descriptions on the GET-UP website [2].

Part II. CAMB Town Hall


On June 13th 2017 a Q-and-A panel on the major questions about unionization was held for CAMB students. Questions were collected from CAMB students by Robert French and Christin Herrmann, and the discussion was mediated by Claudia Lanauze. CAMB Chair Dr. Dan Kessler and BGS Director Dr. Kelley Jordan-Sciutto were also present to talk with students and answer questions within the limits allowed to faculty during the unionization drive [3]. BGSA was represented by Robert French, No Penn Union was represented by Scott Dooley, and GET-UP did not send a representative.


Some of the major points raised during the town hall were:


1. What are authorization cards?


The previous authorization cards (prior to approval of the new GET-UP constitution) contained the following sections:


Section I of the card was a declaration filed with the NLRB to demonstrate that a minimum of 30% of potential union members support holding a vote to form a union.


Section II of the card was an agreement by the student signee to become a full member of GET-UP with the right to participate and vote in GET-UP meetings in return for allowing GET-UP to be your exclusive representative during contract negotiations and slightly higher union dues.


Following the amendment of Appendix A of the new GET-UP constitution, the new membership agreement contains the following sections:


Section I grants GET-UP the status of your “exclusive representative in collective bargaining over wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.”


Section II authorizes the University to automatically deduct union dues from your pay during each pay period [1].


There is no deadline to sign, but only graduate students who have signed can vote on GET-UP measures, including approving a contract or holding a strike. Members and non-members alike that are in the departments designated as part of the union’s “bargaining unit” would still be bound by the terms of the contract negotiated between the union and the University, with no option to opt-out.


2. What if the vote to unionize fails?


If GET-UP cannot manage to get 50% + 1 of all votes cast during the voting period then there is a 1-year moratorium on organizational activity, after which GET-UP can again try to form a union.


3. If the vote passes, what dues will we be likely to pay?


Dues paid to GET-UP local chapter (the “Local”) and the AFT-PA network (the “National”) will likely range from 1-2% of members’ total stipends, with the provision that dues would only be charged if negotiations result in a stipend increase. 


Part III. NLRB Hearings


On June 14th, 2017 legal representatives from Penn [4] and GET-UP (via AFT-PA) [5] began public deliberations at the NLRB local office about the substance and final structure of the collective bargaining unit at Penn, as well as the date and means of the unionization general vote. The case, no. 04-RC-199609 [6], had been deliberated on a daily basis for two weeks, with both GET-UP (@GETUPgrads) and No Penn Union (@nopennunion) posting in real-time on the arguments and witnesses brought up during the deliberations. Deliberations ended on June 30th, 2017, and a final decision by the NLRB Regional Director on the major points of bargaining unit and election timing is still pending. Although GET-UP has posted summaries of each day of deliberations on its Facebook page [7], official transcripts of these hearings are not yet publically available. Fortunately, the transcripts of the deliberations between the University of Chicago and the UChicago graduate student union offer very similar points of argument between the University’s and GET-UP’s legal representatives [8].


Readers are encouraged to explore the UChicago and UConn [9] graduate student union pages for more information and likely parallels to our own unionization process. They can also send further questions to No Penn Union [10], GET-UP Grads, and to the CAMB Newsletter email and blog.






4. Represented by the law-firm of Ballard and Spahr

5. Represented by the law-firm of Willig, Williams, and Davidson

6. More information about participants and filings at


8. Transcripts available at








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