GESO hopes to gain from Penn grad student strike



Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania plan to strike next Thursday and Friday, an effort which will end their week-long campaign to pressure Penn to recognize graduate students as a union.

If the Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania, or GET-UP, succeeds in forming a union, it will become the first graduate student union in the Ivy League. At Yale, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization — which has been trying to unionize graduate students for 17 years — failed to win the University’s recognition of the group as a union after GESO participated with Yale’s largest unions in a three-week strike last fall.

GESO narrowly lost a vote it organized on graduate student unionization last spring.

Graduate students at Penn receive free tuition, full health benefits and an annual stipend of $15,000 to $20,000, Penn spokeswoman Lorie Doyle said. Yale graduate students receive free tuition, partial health benefits and an annual stipend of $16,000 — a figure which will increase to $17,000 for the 2004-05 academic year.

If the Penn strike convinces Penn President Judith Rodin — a former Yale provost — to recognize GET-UP as a union, the momentum at the university could transfer to other campuses, including Yale’s, several GESO members claim.

“It’s evidence that there’s a national movement of academics that are organizing and obviously [we] at Yale are a part of that national movement,” GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said.

Rodin is reportedly considering running for the Senate as a Democrat, against incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., in 2006. American Federation of Teachers spokesman Jamie Horwitz said Rodin’s stance against graduate student unionization may keep labor unions from supporting her potential candidacy.

“If she really wants to run for Senate, we would assume she would want labor support,” Horwitz said. “She may not want a strike on her hands. [Many people] would see the hypocrisy of this great university refusing to count ballots.”

GET-UP members are expected to overwhelmingly authorize the strike in a Monday vote, GET-UP spokesman Dillon Brown said. Today, the group will protest a campus parade honoring incoming Penn President Amy Gutmann.

“We want to get [the administration's] attention and let them know we’re still here and we’re not going away,” Brown said. “A lot of people are rooting for us because it would be a strong signal of support for our rights to unionize.”

Recently, several universities petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to oppose graduate student unionization, arguing graduate students are not full-time employees and should not be unionized.

“The reason that graduate students teach is because it’s an essential component of their educational experience as they will later become teachers,” Doyle said. “It’s not because universities are taking advantage of them.”

Graduate students at Brown, Columbia and Penn have recently had unionization elections, but pressure from the schools’ administrations have led the NLRB to withhold the ballots, Horwitz said.

But at Yale, the GESO vote was not organized by the NLRB.

“Yale has said all along that if GESO wants to unionize, they need to do so through the NLRB election and they have refused to do so,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.

Some GESO and Yale Undergraduate Organizing Committee members said they plan to go to Philadelphia next week to join the Penn strikers.

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