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Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board Rules Penn State Graduate Students Have Union Rights

by on February 09, 2018 11:32 PM

After a week-long hearing held in September, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) has ruled that Penn State’s graduate assistants have union rights under the Pennsylvania Employee Relations Act.

“We’re ecstatic that the PLRB has ordered an election,” Katie Warczak, the media officer for the Coalition of Graduate Employees, said in a press release. “We’re looking forward to exercising our right to vote, and we’re confident that it’s a vote we’ll win.”

No union election date has been set.

The Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) first filed for union representation in February 2017 after launching two years earlier. Citing a need to “improve working conditions” with an increased reliance on graduate students as instructors, CGE hoped to join students at more than 30 other universities with graduate employee unions in the United States.

The university stated its opposition to graduate student unionization with Penn State President Eric Barron releasing a letter stating “the university’s relationship with our students is fundamentally different from that of an employer and employee.”

“Penn State will continue to follow the PLRB process, however, we are disappointed by the decision and are evaluating all our options going forward,” a university statement on Friday said. “The hearing examiner in this case has ordered that the following groups of graduate students will be eligible to vote: all graduate students on graduate assistantships or traineeships. Penn State will prepare a list of eligible voters who are in these groups based on their appointments for the Spring 2018 semester.”

“It is important to note that results of any election will be determined by the majority of those who vote, not by the majority of graduate students. Penn State encourages all eligible students to vote and make their voices heard when the election occurs.”

CGE stated when it filed for unionization that it hoped the university would stick to “remaining neutral” during the unionization process. The university did not immediately respond to a request regarding how much it spent to contract Ballard Spahr, the firm which represented the university in hearings with the PLRB.

“Penn State’s administrators spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to deny us this vote,” CGE Co-President Jerome Clarke said in a release. “Ultimately, it didn’t matter. We are workers and today the PLRB affirmed that status.”



Steve Connelly is a staff writer for Onward State.
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