Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania, the graduate student group formerly focused on unionizing, has officially disbanded and sub-committees focused on individual student workplace issues have surfaced in its place.
When members of the student group withdrew their petition to unionize in February 2018, participation in the organization dwindled and efforts to unionize ultimately ceased. GET-UP decided to indefinitely delay its vote to unionize because of worries that the GOP-dominated National Labor Relations Board might use the vote as a chance to overturn the 2016 landmark decision that formally categorized graduate students at Columbia University as "employees."
Katie Rader, a fourth-year graduate student studying American Politics, said there have been no GET-UP general body meetings following the decision to withdraw the petition to unionize.
In early 2018, GET-UP established various committees to focus on more specific issues. Rader said the the committee that is the most active is GET-UP's Sexual Harassment Committee. Membership in the committee, however, has been constantly changing as previous members graduate. Different working groups housed in specific schools are focusing on issues student workers face in their respective programs, and some GET-UP members are working individually on issues that could assist with unionization efforts.
Multiple GET-UP members have also said that they are not aware of which other committees currently exist under GET-UP.
"We're currently trying to redefine our initiatives," said Rebecca Fishman, a GET-UP Sexual Harassment Committee member and second-year physics graduate student. "There's been a few people who are graduating leaving, and there's been a few people who have recently joined, so we're actually currently working on deciding what to do going forward."
Following the University proposal of a centralized sexual misconduct office, the Sexual Harassment Committee recently submitted their comments on the new policy, which includes asking for increased accountability, more mechanisms to report sexual harassment, and tracking sexual misconduct patterns.
Since 2016, GET-UP member and fourth-year Ed.D. student in the Graduate School of Education Katie Pak has worked with the GSE Ed.D. Working Group on the Funding Resources Guide, a website that would centralize funding opportunities for GSE graduate students.
Pak added that several students in the working group are meeting with GSE faculty with the hopes of resolving issues such as funding differences between doctor of education and doctor of philosophy students in GSE. Although the GSE Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs have similar graduation and educational requirements, Ed.D. students only receive one year of guaranteed funding compared to all four years of funding for Ph.D. students.
Several GET-UP members have also individually worked on issues that they believe will be helpful for future unionization efforts. With the upcoming 2020 presidential election, some GET-UP members are dedicating their time to campaign for Democratic candidates.
While it is not a coordinated effort by GET-UP, both Rader and Jo Wuest, a sixth-year graduate student in American Politics, said they have been volunteering with the Philadelphia chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. They said they hope a democratic administration will be more sympathetic to graduate student unionization, allowing GET-UP to restart their unionization efforts.
Though GET-UP activity has been less centralized, Pak and Wuest said they always keep GET-UP's overarching goal in mind and continue advocating for students' labor rights.
“We’re making sure we're continuously building power within campus by having relationships with the grad students and still working on issues and showing that we're a mobilized group of students within campus," Pak said.
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