After one year of organization and preparation, a group of Penn State graduate assistants filed on Wednesday for a union representation election with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
The Coalition of Graduate Employees at PSU filed the union election paperwork with the state on behalf of the more than 3,700 graduate assistants at the university. The filing allows all graduate assistants to vote on unionization.
CGEPSU is organizing in an effort to partner with Penn State to determine pay scale, benefits and working conditions for graduate assistants. The university makes the decisions unilaterally and with little input from the assistants, according to CGEPSU.
Graduate assistants at Penn State receive stipends, equaling a pay rate of more than $28 per hour, and a grant that covers tuition for the semester in which the assistantship is awarded. Penn State offers medical coverage to the assistants, and the university pays 80 percent of the annual premium cost for policy holders and 75 percent for dependents, according to Penn State’s graduate assistant fact sheet.
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Following the union filing, CGEPSU delivered letters signed by alumni, local government officials and labor unions to university administration asking for “full neutrality and non-interference” with the unionization process.
“Respect, community, responsibility and excellence are all core Penn State values that we believe in,” Cassie McMillan, co-president of CGEPSU, said in a statement. “We are confident the administration will make the right choice to live those values by committing to neutrality, and we look forward to working with them to advance the election process.”
Lisa Powers, Penn State director of news and media relations, released a statement Wednesday concerning the graduate assistants’ desire to become unionized.
“Penn State considers graduate assistants, like all graduate students, to be students first and foremost, whose primary responsibility is to earn advanced degrees,” Powers said in the statement. “The university recognizes that graduate students make important and valuable contributions to Penn State, but we see these activities principally as learning/training opportunities that help prepare students for their future careers.”
There are 32 graduate employee unions nationwide and six in the Big Ten: Michigan State, Rutgers, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin, according to the Coalition of Graduate Employee unions.
A date has not been set for the union election.