Over 1,900 Penn doctoral, master's, and undergraduate student workers have signed authorization cards to form a union.
The group, which is called Graduate Employees Together at the University of Pennsylvania, is hoping to join the United Auto Workers union. In a press release, students said that they experienced low pay, unsatisfactory health benefits, and a lack of support for international students. They also expressed a desire to carry greater influence as a reason for unionization.
GET-UP, which is driving the unionization effort, is hosting a rally outside the front entrance to Van Pelt Library on Wednesday at 3 p.m., where they will ask "Penn administrators to respect their democratic right to a union." A request for comment was left with University spokesperson Ron Ozio.
Graduate student workers previously attempted to unionize in 2018 under the same name, but withdrew their petition to vote to form a union. The new effort comes amid a wave of union formations among student employees at other Ivy League schools, including Columbia University, Harvard University, and Dartmouth College. In addition, a supermajority of Penn residential advisors and graduate associates filed to unionize in March.
"This fits in squarely with a pretty broad wave of unionization happening across the board across college campuses," Robert Watson, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School fifth year and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, told The Daily Pennsylvanian. "I think students want to be heard by administration and to be treated respectfully, and fairly and to be compensated accordingly for their work."
Nikhil Dharan, a third-year PhD student, said that the effort to unionize has been focused on standardizing the discrepancies between different departments and programs at Penn’s schools.
“A union is in all of our best interests because it takes the burden off of graduate students to negotiate directly with our department or program heads,” Dharan said.
This unionization effort also follows the recent efforts of Penn Medicine residents and fellows.
In the press release, three graduate students said that a union was important for their lives as students and brings benefits such as dependent coverage, equity, and maintaining workers' rights.
"In conversations with my co-workers at Penn, I’ve heard so many exciting ideas that would improve equity and justice in our community," fourth-year neuroscience Ph.D. candidate and graduate student worker Rae Herman wrote in the press release. "Collective action is the only way that we can build real power to implement these changes through a clear, legally binding contract. We already know what we need, we just need to organize to make it happen.”