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Graduate Employees Together University of Pennsylvania-UAW rallied in front of College Hall to support graduate student workers' push for union recognition on Oct. 4, 2023. 

Credit: Chenyao Liu

Graduate Employees Together at UPenn released a survey to determine graduate student workers’ top concerns for the union bargaining committee to incorporate into its negotiations.

The survey asks graduate workers to indicate their priorities for including various working conditions, wages, and benefits in a contract. The survey's release comes as GET-UP awaits a decision from the National Labor Relations Board on whether graduate workers at Penn will be allowed to vote to officially unionize. 

Amidst the fight for recognition, several graduate students discussed the need for a comprehensive labor contract and fair stipends with The Daily Pennsylvanian. 

Sixth-year Annenberg PhD candidate Antoine Haywood told the DP that the stipend provided by Penn’s PhD program is fair compared to those from other PhD programs. However, he said that “the one thing that is really lacking is the access to services for dependents with care." 

“We realized we didn’t even have insurance because of a systematic error,” Haywood said, noting that a PhD candidate’s responsibilities — which include teaching, publishing articles, researching, and more — are “very challenging while being a present partner and father.” 

Haywood said that he is advocating for a union in order to have representation that would help employees navigate onboarding processes, such as insurance. The GET-UP survey includes a section for graduate workers to assign priorities to certain health benefits, along with tuition coverage, pay increases, and accessible housing.  

Fourth-year Political Science PhD candidate Clancy Murray told the DP that although their stipend initially felt fair, they have felt the effects of inflation as time has progressed. While the University-wide minimum for stipends increased from $30,547 to $38,000 in 2022 to reflect Philadelphia’s living wage, Murray said that the living wage now stands at $46,000 a year.

“The cost of living is going up faster than our stipends are going up,” they said. 

Frustrations with the fairness of stipends also extend to students in the Graduate School of Education. 

Since the demographic of the GSE’s student body skews older, students will want more support surrounding childcare — including monetary support and parental leave — from their program benefits, fourth-year GSE PhD candidate Tess Bernhard told the DP. She said that graduate students use the same healthcare platforms as Penn undergraduates, making referrals difficult. 

“A lot of people would love to bargain for expanded health care systems that better recognize that we are not 18 years old, but adults that need easier access to specialized care,” Bernhard said. 

Bernhard also expressed frustration with the fact that Penn’s funding often covers fewer years than the average amount of time needed to complete a degree. 

“As of June, I will have no paycheck from Penn. I am not done with my degree,” she said. 

GET-UP’s push for union recognition and the bargaining survey’s release mark the latest developments in the organization’s history. Most recently, they withdrew a 2018 unionization petition out of fear that the NLRB would overturn the 2016 decision that allowed graduate students at private universities to be recognized as employees. In 2023, the University ruled on the exclusion of graduate students in lab rotations from the GET-UP organization, further delaying the unionization election. 

“Everyone hopes that Penn allows us to have a speedy and fair election so when we win that election, they are ready to bargain with us in good faith,” Murray told the DP. “We all want the contract that we deserve.”