On Labor Day, some people like to kick back and have a picnic with friends, enjoying the day off work.
At Penn State on Monday, more than 60 graduate students spent their holiday at a picnic on the lawn in front of Old Main, sharing sandwiches and chips, drinking ice tea and hearing about unionization.
It wasn’t a class. It was a kind of kick-off event as the Coalition for Graduate Employees pushes toward organizing the grad students into a bargaining group.
But is a student an employee?
According to CGE, yes. Grad student Kevin Reuning said that there are about 3,000 of his brethren pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees at the university, across the various colleges, but unlike undergrads, many of them have duties, like teaching classes and grading work, that the university already recognizes to the government as work.
“If you get a W2, you’re an employee,” he said, referencing the official document that an employer sends to a worker and the IRS every year to record how much compensation was received for income tax purposes.
The CGE says they want to give those working students a way to negotiate with the university, to address issues and have the school “recognize our existence.”
There were, however, some questions from the crowd.
Would unionization affect the student status of a visa for an international student? Would faculty members support the move? How many people would have to get on board to make it happen?
All of those questions will probably be asked again over the coming months as the CGE works toward putting out unionization cards in the spring.
The group will have a year to circulate and collect cards, which will not be shown to the university, but will be turned in directly to the National Labor Relations Board.
If a simple majority of the graduate students support the idea, the union could then happen.
“We need to grow. We need to identify and recruit,” said Irene Arellano, a graduate student whose emphasis is on labor and worker rights. “You can’t just make a post on Facebook. You have to talk to people.”