A newly formed association of unions across Penn’s campus, held their first open forum meeting on Sept. 21.
The Coalition of Workers at Penn was created in collaboration with The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. According to the initial press release, the group “aims to join the energy in new organizing across Penn’s campus over the past two years with the unions that have represented Penn workers for decades and the not yet organized workers that make Penn the institution that it is.”
Jana Korn, a 2018 Penn graduate and organizing director for the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, told the DP that an increased number of workers have been organizing at Penn over the last two years – including housestaff at Penn Medicine and graduate students.
“We think every worker should have a union and we think every worker at Penn should have a union,” OPEIU Local 153 organizer Scott Williams, a 2016 graduate of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, said.
The group aims to ensure that student workers attempting to unionize have a space for mutual support, according to College senior Conor Emery, an RA in Harnwell College House.
The organizers said that as the largest primary employer in Philadelphia, Penn’s attitude towards student workers sets the tone for union efforts across campus and employment for the city as a whole.
The organizers said that they have already begun working with local government officials to achieve their goals, including State Representative for the 188th House District of Pennsylvania and 2013 Engineering graduate Rick Krajewski.
“The work labor unions are doing on campus to advocate for their workers is very admirable,” Krajewskei told the DP. “It’s a long time coming.”
Rep. Krajewski also emphasized the importance of solidarity and collaboration in organizing efforts, and noted that the coalition is building on the momentum of grassroots campaigns throughout Philadelphia.
Matteo Hintz, a worker at the Penn Museum and Chapter Chairperson for the Local 397 Chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, told the DP that he was inspired to get involved with the coalition after learning about their connection with the AFL-CIO and other organizations on campus.
“It’s a unique situation with all of these groups organizing,” they said. “We truly have power in numbers.”
According to Korn, the meeting on Sept. 21 aimed to introduce the coalition to workers across Penn’s campus and introduce them to the idea of creating this organization together.
“We want to increase the visibility and awareness of unions at Penn so that other workers at Penn who want to unionize know that they can go somewhere and get help,” Williams said.
The coalition also wants to support workers currently organizing and teach other groups how to organize a union and work with political allies to figure out how to put pressure on employers, Korn said.
“I was deeply moved and inspired by the energy in the room during the meeting,” Korn told the DP. “Workers from every corner of campus came to affirm their solidarity with one another and their shared vision for a university that works for everyone, including the workers and the city of Philadelphia.”