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From the President and Provost


On Graduate Student Unionization

Last Thursday, the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board issued a long and complicated decision about graduate student unionization at Penn. We wanted to reiterate our response, also issued last Thursday, because of the importance of this matter to the life and work of the university community.

We maintain that our graduate students are students, and not employees. However, we recognize that the regional NLRB has reached a different conclusion. Like our colleagues at Brown, Tufts and Columbia, we believe that the issue of graduate students "as employees " warrants further legal review.

Further, as our statement makes clear, we find it both inexplicable and unfair to discriminate between the rights of different graduate students depending solely on their chosen area of scholarship. That is why we are planning to appeal this decision by the Regional Director to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington. We believe that holding an election in which some graduate students are allowed to vote on the issue of unionization while others are barred from participation would be unnecessarily divisive. If there is to be a vote, then every graduate student should have a voice; not only a select few.

Ultimately, we believe that because Penn graduate students are skilled researchers and critical thinkers they will conclude, as Cornell graduate students did overwhelmingly late last month, that a uniform union contract would not serve the unique, individualized needs of graduate scholarship.

Responding to the NLRB Decision

This afternoon [11/21/02] we received word that the National Labor Relations Board's Regional Director issued a Decision and Direction of Election finding that certain graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania are employees when they are teaching and research assistants at the University. The NLRB has directed an election to determine if a majority of these graduate students desire to be represented by a Union.

The complicated decision arbitrarily divides and discriminates among graduate students in determining who would be eligible to vote and who would not. For example, the decision includes some professional masters degree students in the proposed bargaining unit and excludes other comparable professional masters degree students. Even the regional director recognizes that there is no basis for the distinction drawn between Ph.D. candidates in the natural sciences (excluded) and the social sciences (included). The regional director says that she is "compelled to follow the NYU case," even though she concedes that she would "otherwise agree with the University's contention that Natural Science RA's should be treated the same way as other RA's."

The decision makes no sense for graduate students at Penn. We hope that the students themselves, like their counterparts at Cornell, would come to the same conclusion.

We disagree with this decision and plan to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, as have Brown, Tufts and Columbia.

We will continue to keep you informed of future developments in this important matter.

-- Judith Rodin, President

--Robert Barchi, Provost


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 14, November 26, 2002

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