Late February, the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) filed for formal unionization with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB).
CGE has actively been campaigning to establish a graduate employee union in order to increase compensation, controls on how many hours they work, better benefits for graduate employees with children, and reimbursement for travel.
President Barron released a statement against the union.
“The University’s relationship with our students is fundamentally different from that of an employer and employee,” President Barron said. “For this reason, Penn State opposes this petition for representation with the PLRB.”
The statement went on to emphasize that while the administration realizes that there are issues to be addressed, they don’t believe that collective bargaining with a union is the most effective way to solve them and could even “impede the academic and mentoring relationships Penn State has with its graduate students.”
CGE Chief Media Officer Kyler Sherman-Wilkins considers that statement to be “empirically false” and points to a Cornell study that a union does not have any negative impacts on the mentor-mentee relationship.
“This whole idea that somehow having a collective group of people who are pushing for largely the same thing in some way impacts the needs of individuals is ridiculous and I think it is false to say that a union would replace existing things within the university,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “It’s misinformation.”
CGE requested several times in person and over email to meet with Barron to discuss non-interference and for the administration to remain neutral in their unionization process. They were promised a meeting, but their requests went unanswered.
“For us, it was very unfortunate and very upsetting that the university would make a clear stance of being opposed to graduate employees unionizing without discussing the matter with us,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “It was also a little frustrating to think that we are now slated for a less amicable and less smooth process.”
Recently, university administrations at both Duke and Cornell have launched active campaigns to derail graduate employee union efforts. Sherman-Wilkins emphasizes that while Penn State hasn’t made any actions to actively undermine CGE’s unionization efforts, they’re actively worried about a campaign against them.
“We consider the refusal to meet with us to discuss unionization and non-interference as being one particular demonstration of not being supportive of our right for a fair and free election,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “We also feel that this release of this statement is another example.”
On Thursday, representatives from CGE, the PLRB, and CGE’s union representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association will have a call with Penn State’s attorney’s to discuss the date for the election.