NLRB says Penn grad students are employees

After filing for a union election last December, graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania won a ruling Thursday that will allow them to hold elections on whether to unionize.

The regional National Labor Relations Board ruled that Penn teaching and research assistants are employees and have the right to unionize. If the Graduate Employees Together — University of Pennsylvania, or GET-UP, wins the election, they would form the first graduate student union in the Ivy League.

GET-UP spokesman David Faris said the group is pleased with the ruling and hopes it will impact organizing efforts at other schools. Penn spokeswoman Lori Doyle told the Associated Press that the university plans to ask the NLRB to review the decision.

Penn is the third Ivy League university where the NLRB has ruled TAs and RAs can unionize, and would become the fourth Ivy League school to hold a graduate student union election.

Graduate students at Brown and Columbia universities held elections last winter but the ballots were impounded because the universities appealed the rulings allowing TAs to unionize. Graduate students at Cornell University overwhelmingly voted down union representation last month.

At Yale, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization has been trying to form a graduate student union for over a decade. But the group has not officially requested an election.

GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said every victory for graduate student unionization elections in the Ivy League helps GESO’s drive.

“I think the thing that has been giving all of us in GESO a lot of hope is that we’re part of a larger movement,” she said.

Yale President Richard Levin said that because NLRB elections are a recognized way to hold graduate student unionization elections and have been held at other universities, he does not believe the decision is a significant announcement.

“It’s not really news in the sense that there’s not really a change in the status quo,” he said.

Doyle told the Associated Press that Penn’s administration believes a proposal to unionize would be voted down.

“We don’t believe the decision makes sense for the graduate students at Penn, and we are confident that the students themselves, like their counterparts at Cornell, would come to the same conclusion,” she said.

Faris said he hopes the ruling will help efforts to organize at other universities, including Yale.

“We hope this decision will bolster the campaigns at Yale and at other universities,” he said. “We certainly support every effort that the Yale graduate students are making toward unionization.”

Faris said the election may be held in February, though no official date has been scheduled.

The push for graduate student unionization at private universities has grown since a landmark NLRB ruling two years ago that reversed a long-standing precedent. The ruling declared that teaching and research assistants at New York University were employees. New York University is currently the only private institution with a TA union.

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