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As the University community awaits the National Labor Relations Board's decision about whether Penn graduate students can vote upon forming a union, student efforts have continued to persuade administrators to retract their opposition toward this campaign.

On June 27, Philadelphia labor and political officials requested that the University allow graduate students to proceed with their attempts to form a union at a press conference sponsored by Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania.

"We call upon the University of Pennsylvania to stop acting like the pharoah of ancient Egyptian times... and we call upon the University of Pennsylvania to stop their anti-union campaign," Philadelphia Interfaith Community for Worker Justice representative James Ratner said.

The NLRB is currently deliberating over whether Penn graduate students have the right to hold union elections, following a series of hearings that were held during the spring semester.

Throughout the hearings, the University expressed resistence to a petition filed by GET-UP in December of 2001 by contesting whether Penn graduate students should be considered employees and, in turn, whether they have the right to form unions.

At the press conference, speakers emphasized graduate students' right to hold union elections and criticized the University for trying to thwart these actions.

"For some reason the leadership at this University believes that they are beyond the law," Philadelphia City Comptroller Jonathan Saidel said. "Well, they have no special status when it comes to workers' rights."

Moreover, speakers urged the University to consider their motives behind contesting union elections.

"I think that the University should take a hard look at what they're doing by not allowing the people to come together and make a decision," Philadelphia Central Labor Council President Pat Eiding said. "What the University should be concerned with is why they're spending all of this money to try to keep this process from happenning."

In spite of the endorsement that GET-UP received at the press conference, the University's stance on graduate student unionization remains firm.

"Penn feels that graduate students are students, not employees, and therefore do not need to be unionized," University spokeswoman Lori Doyle said earlier this week.

And while many of the speakers at the conference said that the University was being uncooperative, Doyle affirmed that Penn's administration is very open to the concept of unionization.

"It's disingenuous to claim that Penn is anti-union," Doyle said. "Penn has strong bargaining with their union workers, many of whom have worked with the University for decades."

GET-UP's actions are only one link in a long chain of graduate unionization attempts by private universities in recent years.

Beginning with the NLRB's first ruling in favor of graduate student union elections for private universities at New York University in February 2000, Brown, Columbia and Temple graduate students have recently been successful in their unionization campaigns as well.

If the NLRB rules in favor of allowing graduate students to vote, they will then be able to proceed to the next step toward forming an organization -- negotiating stipend amounts, teaching and research conditions and benefits with University administrators.

Regardless of the current tension between administrators and graduate students, the only thing that either side can do right now is to wait for the NLRB to make their final decision.

"We all wish we could stop talking about it," GET-UP spokesman David Faris said. "Penn didn't have to take this to court."

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