The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board held a conference call last week with attorneys representing Penn State and the Pennsylvania State Education Association to discuss Penn State graduate students’ attempt to unionize, but there was no decision made on if or when the process will move forward.
In February, the Coalition of Graduate Employees at Penn State filed for union representation with the PLRB. Following the filing, the group delivered a letter to Penn State President Eric Barron asking for “full neutrality and non-interference” with the process.
Penn state responded with a statement that recognized the graduate students’ right to begin the unionization process, but said “Penn State considers graduate assistants, like all graduate students, to be students first and foremost, whose primary responsibility is to earn advanced degrees.”
The university also published gradfacts.psu.edu, a website that explains the university’s position, provides students with information about unionization and offers updates about the process.
Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, chief media officer and spokesman for the CGE, said that the university is beginning an anti-union campaign leading up to a potential vote by graduate students to form the union.
When Duke and Cornell graduate students began their unionization efforts last year, Sherman-Wilkins said the groups were countered by the universities with information that was anti-union.
Regina Vasilatos-Younken, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school at Penn State, said Wednesday that the university’s information is to educate interested parties on the issue.
“The university released information to ensure that those who will be impacted are informed and engaged,” Vasilatos-Younken said in a statement. “We urge graduate students to educate themselves on this issue and make their decisions based upon the facts.”
The conference call held last week, was another step in the process that began in February. PLRB rules require the call to be held in an effort to identify issues that necessitate a hearing. Any issues that arise are handled by the board prior to consideration of scheduling a union election at the university.
Penn State did not clarify the issues that were discussed during the call, but Sherman-Wilkins said the university plans to challenge a PLRB ruling from 2001 that allowed Temple University graduate students to unionize.
The PLRB has not scheduled a hearing or made a determination about the future of the unionization efforts, but Vasilatos-Younken said the university is cooperating with the board.
“The PLRB, not Penn State, will determine whether an election is appropriate,” Vasilatos-Younken said. “The PLRB will not order an election unless it determines that there is an appropriate unit under the law. Penn State will follow the PLRB’s processes.”