Search Results

Below are your search results. You can also try a Basic Search.

Car crashes into Locust Walk barrier

(03/21/03 10:00am)

At approximately 7:20 pm this evening, a Buick Century station wagon with Pennsylvania license plates barreled down 37th Street at high speed, crossing Walnut and slamming into a concrete barrier just short of Locust Walk. Eye witnesses said the vehicle swerved several times as it passed Stiteler Hall, taking a final swing to the left as it impacted, mounted and dragged the concrete block, with sparks flying, almost ten feet before coming to a rest at the base of a tree. Though the vehicle appeared severely damaged, neither pedestrians on the Walk nor, reportedly, the driver himself was injured. "He was walking shakily," College freshman Niva Kramek said, noting that the middle-aged man was not bleeding visibly. Despite a malfunctioning emergency "blue light" phone at the scene of the accident, University police were notified immediately and arrived within minutes. A local auto-salvage company removed the wreck later this evening. University police declined to comment, stating only that the incident was "still under investigation."

Grad group takes anti-war stance

(03/18/03 10:00am)

Joining city councils, labor groups and student governments across the nation, Penn's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly recently passed a resolution against war with Iraq. Originally introduced by GAPSA's vice chairman and political science graduate student Michael Janson, the resolution was tabled last month. Brought back to the floor on March 5, albeit significantly modified, the resolution passed easily by a vote of 16 to 1. Amendments "simplified the resolution to allow for more broad-based support," according to GAPSA chairman Jeremy Korst, eliminating several "'whereas' clauses that were an issue for people," including references to U.N. Resolution 1441. The core of the adopted resolution is that "war at this time is not the best possible solution," Korst said. Korst added in an e-mail that "GAPSA completely supports the men and women of the armed forces who will be involved in any conflict with Iraq." "Our thoughts and prayers are with them, their families and the people of Iraq," he wrote. The question of military action aside, some feel that GAPSA was out of its element representing Penn's 10,000 graduate students on sweeping questions of foreign policy. "I find it disappointing that we think this is what we're there to do," Wharton School representative to GAPSA Robert Alvarez said, explaining why he moved to table the motion in February. "There's plenty of important things for [this] assembly to do," Alvarez said. "GAPSA should not shy away from controversial or political issues but should chose one within its purview. "That doesn't mean the assembly can't take a role in debates like this," Alvarez said, maintaining that GAPSA should "get a dialogue going" and facilitate debate rather than make such sweeping pronouncements itself. "It's saying it doesn't have any better way to spend its time," he said. Confident that Penn students are more than capable of expressing their political opinions for themselves, Alvarez noted that since every graduate and professional student is automatically a GAPSA constituent, the resolution, passed by 16, technically speaks for all 10,000 members of the graduate community. Others, meanwhile, say other student government organizations on campus should follow GAPSA's lead. "It's great to see the graduate students get mobilized on this issue," said anti-war activist Arshad Hasan, a College senior. A former Undergraduate Assembly communications chairman, Hasan declared himself "disappointed and not very well represented" by the UA, which has yet to take a stance on the issue. He added that GAPSA is "traditionally less active on campus, and it's really disheartening to see the UA fall behind and not address the issues that really affect the campus."

GET-DOWN not down with unionization

(03/06/03 10:00am)

While efforts to convince people to "get down" may seem more relevant on the dance floor than at a union rally, two teaching assistants have done their best over the past few weeks to give the term a whole new meaning. "People seem to appreciate it," first-year physics doctoral candidate Carl Modes said. Modes, fellow first-year physics doctoral student Albert Siryaporn and a "fairly transient" group of between 20 and 30 volunteers are responsible for printing and distributing pamphlets and maintaining a Web site -- -- in a campaign against union representation by Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania. Lampooning GET-UP's informational campaign, GET-DOWN, AFD-CIO -- Graduate Employees Together-Don't Owe Wharton Nothin', American Federation of Drinkers-Chillin' It Out -- started as a "spur-of-the-moment" reaction to what Modes and Siryaporn call the poor quality of the union organizing committee's literature. "They made a pamphlet especially for us [in the Physics Department] with Einstein," Modes said. "I think they tried to make the argument that he was pro-union at some point in his life.... It was just ridiculous." Reminding the community that "getting down is not a fringe benefit -- it is bootylicious," in its first propaganda effort, the "vote maybe" campaign eventually salted its material with serious policy positions, attacking GET-UP's arguments as well as its formatting and fonts. The GET-DOWN Web site, which has registered over 13,600 hits, is practically a carbon copy of GET-UP's own, except for sections reminding Web surfers that "union solidarity is not a practical or viable solution for most issues," "some unions deduct from your pay... even if you are not part of the union" and "strikes are a reality." GET-DOWN has taken issue with not only GET-UP's platforms but also its election-day activities. "We really didn't like that they had staked out Houston Hall" during the elections, Modes said. Additionally, Modes and Siryaporn expressed concern that "the people who are, in a sense, mentoring" GET-UP may be having a negative influence on the union's members -- for example, Modes said he was disturbed by the continuing presence of the radical University of Illinois' grad student union leader Uma Pimplaskar, who was on Penn's campus during the campaign. Amusing as their material may be, neither Modes nor Siryaporn have any illusions about the practical impact they have had on campus. "We didn't really get started until kind of late in the game," Modes admitted, adding that he was surprised by The Daily Pennsylvanian's exit poll results. "We were expecting a landslide GET-UP victory," he said. "I'd like to think we had something to do with that, but it's a bit na‹ve to think so." Indeed, even professors in Modes' own department had never heard of GET-DOWN, while graduate students across the University admitted similar unawareness. Now, between the end of the union election and the resolution of the University's appeal, during which time the election results will not be released, GET-DOWN is "waiting and seeing," according to Siryaporn. GET-UP, meanwhile, seems more amused than threatened by its new rival. "It's somewhat flattering," GET-UP spokesperson Joanna Kempner said. "You know you've made it when people are parodying you."

GET-UP petition confuses some

(03/05/03 10:00am)

The partisan. The cautious. The confused. Members of the bargaining unit that signed a pro-unionization petition circulated by Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania before last week's union election had motives as diverse as Penn's graduate student community itself. While some students say they fully back the petition they signed, others say they had no idea what they were adding their names to. The petition, specifically supporting GET-UP and the American Federation of Teachers of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, was signed by just over 500 people, according to copies printed around campus and a full-page advertisement that ran the first day of the elections in The Daily Pennsylvanian. Representing a majority of the 997 National Labor Relations Board-approved voters, GET-UP is confident that the petition proves that the organizing committee won the right to unionize at the polls. "The overwhelming majority of petition signers came out to vote and told us that they voted yes," GET-UP spokesperson Joanna Kempner said. "It stands as proof to the community at large that GET-UP won this election with a solid majority." GET-UP organizers, many of whom signed the petition, said they agreed. "We've clearly shown a majority of the bargaining unit has voted yes for unionization," said Robert Fairbanks, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work. "Any administration that has democracy in mind would be invested in... counting the votes and... respecting our statutory rights toward collective bargaining." A GET-UP member and organizer, the social welfare student found it "really surprising" that some had found the petition, and GET-UP's organizing tactics in general, confusing or intrusive. "This is typical, conventional get-out-the-vote behavior," he said. However, some petition signatories admitted to being swayed to GET-UP's side by the petition drive. "If I didn't sign that, probably I wouldn't have voted," said Lei Xiao, a first-year Wharton School doctoral candidate, noting that "yes or no is not much difference for me." Others also appreciated GET-UP's informational campaign. "I'm from another country, and when I came here, I didn't really know how things should be," one second-year School of Arts and Sciences doctoral student said. "I think what they said has given me more information about [how things] should be," she concluded. Others, however, admitted to being less than in the know. "Bargaining unit, what do you mean?" Engineering doctoral student and petition signatory Yu Xiang asked about the NLRB mandated unit that delineated voting rights in the election. "I think I am in that union," he said. Xiang, listed as a petition signatory, said that he was unaware that his name was on the petition. "Maybe sometime I signed something," he said, "but I'm not very sure." Nevertheless, many graduate students were very sure indeed. "I'm proud to have my name on it," English Ph.D. student Matt Ruben said. "I've found the campaign informative and useful," he added. "I've seen a lot of union campaigns, and I thought this was a very well-behaved one." Other signatories, however, had misgivings. A first-year graduate student in the Graduate School of Education said that she thinks she "signed it before I fully understood everything." "It was pretty intense," she said. "They were very available to put a positive slant on it. I think that there was a part of me that [thought], 'Are these people going to leave me alone if I don't sign it?'" "They had people staked out all over campus, and if they didn't see you wearing a [GET-UP] sticker, they would jump down your throat, they had people calling, seeing when you were going to vote," she continued, noting that despite her positive experience with unions in the past and her initially positive impression of GET-UP, "I'm not sure that I still feel that way."

Yale graduate students join union strike

(03/04/03 10:00am)

Expecting impenetrable picket lines and large-scale disorder to their daily routines, students at Yale University have been only minimally disrupted by the strike of the Federation of Hospital and University Employees at Yale University. Graduate students, including teaching assistants, are among the employees striking and aim to gain collective bargaining rights by working themselves into the established unions' contracts. The strike "kind of fizzled," Yale sophomore Alden Bass said. "There really aren't any picket lines.... I expected at least... what you read about or see on television, but it just wasn't as eventful as I expected." The strike -- which featured a demonstration march through New Haven attended by Jesse Jackson yesterday afternoon after the day's picketing -- is scheduled to continue through Friday, until Yale's two-week long spring recess. Bass added that "some of the classes were interfered with a little bit because graduate students aren't teaching them," and that, as all of Yale's campus dining operations are unstaffed and shut down, students have had to scrounge for food at local supermarkets and retail venues. Yale has issued reimbursement checks, equivalent to the value of the lost meals. The FHUE includes Locals 34 and 35, representing clerical and technical employees and service and maintenance employees, respectively. The striking body also includes the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, a union organizing committee, and District 1199, an organizing committee seeking to represent employees at Yale-New Haven Hospital. "Our goal this week is to have the university operate fully," Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said. "Classes go on, and we're meeting that goal." Far from the iron display of inter-union solidarity many expected, according to third-year Yale political science graduate student Matt Glassman, yesterday's poor turnout and low morale were evidence of a "disconnect between the leadership of the unions and the rank and file." "I support Local 34 and 35, and I went out in the morning with some doughnuts and coffee to give to the picketers," Glassman said. "I literally had to search for them." "Based on what I saw today, this is not going to be a long strike," Glassman added. Yale students are no strangers to dining hall closures or strikes. Attempting to secure a commitment from Yale President Richard Levin that the university would waive its right to appeal a regional National Labor Relations Board director's ruling, GESO organized a grade strike -- in which grades were withheld from undergraduate students -- at the end of the winter semester between 1995 and 1996. Union officials insisted that the current strike was not exclusively an attempt to gain GESO and District 1199 collective bargaining rights by working them into the established unions' contracts. "The rally is to support good union jobs and access to good union jobs," FHUE spokesman Bill Meyerson said. "We have not backed down from our support for a free and fair process [for GESO], but there are other contract issues." Meanwhile, some said that linking GESO recognition to the contract negotiations was the primary reason why Yale was unwilling to accept FHUE's terms. "Were it not for that linkage, we believe we would have had a contract a long time ago," Conroy said, adding that the GESO question is a "main obstacle to an agreement." "The only possible end to this strike is GESO gets knocked off the table," Glassman said, adding that if the other unions "get the economic stuff settled, I can't imagine they'll hold out to GESO for one minute." Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures Cyrus Hamlin expressed concern over the melding of GESO and union interests up to this point, saying that "what the graduate students are trying to achieve is so different from the legitimate needs of the workers in the union that, in my opinion, it's totally inappropriate to combine" the two. Yesterday, Jackson drew a large crowd, but Glassman noted that the reverend's remarks were "really off-message." "He had some anti-war stuff, some anti-Bush stuff," Glassman said, adding that the activist left the "crowd wondering what he was doing." A rally at Yale's medical center, featuring Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern, is planned for today.

Poll: Most voted yes on union

(03/03/03 10:00am)

A majority of Penn's graduate students eligible to vote in the union elections last week voted in favor of graduate student unionization, according to a Daily Pennsylvanian exit poll. According to the poll, 60.4 percent of those eligible voters surveyed supported a union, 35 percent opposed a union and 4.6 percent did not reveal their opinion. Of those ineligible respondents who cast challenge ballots, however, the majority did not support a union, according to the DP poll. According to the poll, 63.8 percent of those surveyed who cast challenge ballots voted in opposition to a union, 29.9 percent supported a union and 6.2 percent did not reveal their opinion. The percentage of total votes -- including all challenge ballots cast -- supporting a union is 51 percent, according to the DP's poll. This means that if in the unlikely case all challenge ballots are considered by the National Labor Relations Board -- whose decision to grant graduate students the right to vote on unionization is currently being appealed by the University -- the vote on unionization could go either way. Challenge ballots were cast by those graduate students who are not currently in the bargaining unit and would therefore not be part of a union if one were to form at Penn. The challenge ballots will be evaluated on an individual basis only if the total number of challenge ballots cast is greater than the margin of victory. Years may pass before the National Labor Relations Board decides to count or throw out last week's votes to determine whether graduate employees can unionize at Penn. If the University's appeal is granted, the votes will be thrown out and the results will never be revealed to the public. "Now it's time for the administration to drop their appeal and recognize our union," Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania spokesperson Joanna Kempner said. Throughout the two-day election, DP staff members maintained an exit-polling post as close as legally possible to the polling room in Houston Hall, offering everyone who was allowed to vote with either standard or challenge ballots the opportunity to record their votes anonymously. Around 40 percent of the total number of those eligible to vote participated. As the NLRB will not release the number of votes cast, the percentage of challenge voters participating is unknown. Ed George, a professor of statistics in the Wharton School, used "95 percent confidence intervals," to calculate margins of error based on the DP's data. Assuming those surveyed represent a random sample, the actual majority of eligible voters in favor of unionization falls between 56.6 percent and 64.4 percent. Given the same assumption, those who cast challenge ballots are, in stark contrast to their eligible colleagues, only between 24.6 percent and 35.3 percent in favor of unionization. "It appears the vote could be swayed by including the ineligibles," George said. Indeed, if the challenge ballots are taken into account, the percentage of voters in favor of being represented by GET-UP would fall between 47.7 percent and 54.2 percent. With eligible voters apparently in favor of unionization and challenge voters strongly against, the question of voting rights in the election persists. Deputy Provost Peter Conn interpreted the data as evidence of "gerrymandering" -- manipulation of the voting pool. "We repeatedly urged the NLRB officers to categorize all of our students in the same way," Conn said. "We have, as you know, about 10,000 [graduate and professional students], of whom under 10 percent were defined as 'eligible' by the NLRB." GET-UP, meanwhile, rejects accusations of gerrymandering, noting that the bargaining unit was modeled using the only legal precedent available -- the New York University decision. The organizing committee instead interprets the poll as confirmation of "what we already knew: the graduate employees at Penn overwhelmingly voted to form a union," according Kempner. Conn also felt that the exit poll's incomplete and potentially flawed data was other than reliably representative. "The numbers seem to me to be too small to be meaningful," Conn said, adding that he remains "confident that the majority of those who actually voted and the vast majority of those who were deliberately disenfranchised by GET-UP and the NLRB reject the idea of unionization." Conn also felt that some might be "reluctant to speak their minds in an exit interview that they thought might be some sort of a GET-UP poll." GET-UP published a petition last week with the names of just over half of the members of the bargaining unit, offering it to the community as documentary proof of a GET-UP victory. The exit poll results simply add a "renewed legitimacy" to the organizing committee's campaign, Kempner said. As for the large percentage of ineligible respondents reporting votes against GET-UP representation, Kempner said that the challenge vote outcome witnessed "the administration inappropriately encourag[ing] students to vote." "Rather than allow a fair and transparent election process, the administration attempted to sabotage the vote," she said. "I think that GET-UP has consistently run a clean campaign... followed the legal process to a tee, and the administration has consistently tried to undermine the process," she said, adding that "if the administration has a problem with the bargaining unit, then that is a matter for the courts, not for the election process." Currently contesting the election process in the courts, Penn's appeal will indefinitely delay the release of the votes, as similar appeals have kept ballots from Tufts, Columbia and Brown universities under lock and key.

Results from union vote await appeal

(02/28/03 10:00am)

Ballots deciding the future of graduate-employee unionization at Penn might have seen the light of day for the last time yesterday in Houston Hall. The National Labor Relations Board closed the polls at 7 p.m., sorting and sealing hundreds of votes under the careful supervision of lawyers and observers representing both Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania and the University. The votes will be impounded until Penn's appeal to the national office of the NLRB is heard. The results will be released only if the appeal is dismissed. Should the University prevail in the courts, not even the total number of ballots cast will be released, according to NLRB officials. "We can only know who wins when the administration drops its appeal," GET-UP spokesperson Joanna Kempner said last night, before a GET-UP "victory party" celebrating the election. Deputy Provost Peter Conn noted in an e-mail statement that "all the messages I received over the past two days from the faculty and graduate students who spoke to me personally or by e-mail indicated that GET-UP lost this election." Frustrations over who was and was not allowed to vote, however, continued throughout the final day of voting, as many graduate students attempting to vote were turned away by the NLRB. However, one student, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was upset not that he could not vote, but that the NLRB allowed him to -- a College sophomore studying mathematics, his submatriculation into a master's program in the School of Arts and Sciences and "because [he] graded papers for a professor one time" apparently made the student eligible to vote in the election. "Do you want to know what my vote was?" he asked. "I abstained." "I wanted to prove a point," he added, explaining his abstention. "I don't think that... my vote should count." Shocked that he can cast a ballot as an undergraduate when most graduate students are not allowed to vote, the student saw his voting rights as evidence of the arbitrary nature of the NLRB. "Then why can't all undergraduate students be allowed to vote?" he asked, adding that "GET-UP should have addressed the issue, delayed the vote a few months and solved this." As another passing voter loudly announced his intention to vote for union representation "because I want to say, 'Screw you,' to Judy Rodin," the College sophomore responded with his thoughts on the unionization drive. "When you say, 'Screw Judy Rodin,' by that you mean, 'Screw the University,' and by that you mean, 'Screw what the University stands for, which is undergraduate education,'" he said. Nevertheless, with the election over and the ballots under lock and key, GET-UP will be focusing its efforts elsewhere. "The union doesn't go away," Kempner said, adding that "we already have a union, it's just not recognized yet." "A union is a living, growing organism, and we constantly organize," she added, noting that GET-UP will continue to petition the University to drop its appeal. The University, however, has not been distracted from Penn's "core mission by the agitation of the past several months" and will not be distracted in the future, according to Conn. "The community of scholars and students has proven to be durable and resilient, and our collegial values remain robustly intact."

Grad union election ends tonight

(02/27/03 10:00am)

Blending neatly into the classically Ivy League atmosphere of Houston Hall, black-suited agents from the National Labor Relations Board supervised the first day of graduate-employee union elections yesterday. Hundreds voted -- and more will vote today -- to decide whether or not Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania will represent a select, NLRB-determined bargaining unit in contract negotiations and collective bargaining with the University. But while the day went smoothly overall, some students left the polling station in the Benjamin Franklin Room frustrated that they were not allowed to cast a vote. "I'm disappointed," Wharton Ph.D. student Radhakrishna Kamath said. "I don't have a voice." Though not currently a teaching assistant as a first-year doctoral candidate in finance, Kamath will be obliged to work as a TA each year he is enrolled in the program, starting next semester. "I'm surprised, because unionization will affect me," he concluded, adding that he hoped the challenge ballot he cast will be counted. A challenge ballot can be cast by someone not currently in the bargaining unit who would be affected by unionization in the future. This determination is made by the NLRB election supervisors. Some students wishing to cast challenge ballots were not allowed to do so. "They said my connection to the University was too tenuous," Monique Timberlake, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in anthropology, said about the NLRB agents' decision not to allow her to cast a challenge ballot. "They said the way things are written now... [the challenge ballot] probably wouldn't count anyway." Neither the NLRB board agents nor their supervisor, Field Examiner Harold Maier, would comment on the election, but NLRB Assistant Regional Director John Breese explained the board's reason for not accepting some individuals' challenge ballots. "If you allowed everyone who was or will be affected [to cast ballots], you could let the entire United States vote," he said, explaining that the election will be decided, as per NLRB policy, "based on people who are currently employed." According to Breese, challenge ballots will only be counted if the margin of victory is less than the total number of challenge ballots cast. Even then, each challenge must be debated and approved by both the University and GET-UP before it can be counted. "I was allowed [to cast a challenge ballot], but when I explained my University affiliation, they just put down 'fellowship'," Fels Institute of Government graduate student Jennifer Warren said, noting that she was worried that the NLRB had not recognized that "there's a difference between a fellowship that is non-service and a fellowship that is service. "I work as the managing editor of a journal, and that pays for my stipend," she said. "I probably do more work than some TAs do -- I used to be a TA, and I know." Concerned that a significant issue in her graduate career will "be decided by a few select people" chosen along lines she said were "arbitrary," Warren voiced her perspective on GET-UP claims that Penn administrators' encouragement of challenge ballots made the process seem less legitimate. GET-UP spokesperson Joanna Kempner encouraged graduate students on Tuesday to "vote only if you are in the unit," noting that administrators were "encouraging a lot of people who clearly aren't eligible," which "can really make the election seem less legitimate." "It almost seems like they're afraid," Warren said. "It's kind of fishy when students don't want other students to vote." GET-UP co-chairwoman Elizabeth Williamson admitted that "the Excelsior list [of those allowed to vote by the NLRB] is goofy," but urged graduate students to "trust the people who are eligible to vote to be representative" of their non-voting colleagues. "We would love to be able to have people rotating in and out of the unit be able to cast votes," Williamson said, noting that it is "partly the nature of unions" to allow a representative few to make decisions. But according to Deputy Provost Peter Conn, the situation "indicates... to me at least how mischievous this undefined, divisive and arbitrary unit is." Voting will resume today at 10 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room in Houston Hall. Today is the final day to cast ballots, with the polls closing at 7 p.m.

Election for a grad union begins today

(02/26/03 10:00am)

After years of rhetoric, debate and contention, Penn's first graduate student union election will be held today. Coordinated and supervised by agents from the National Labor Relations Board, elections will begin at 10 a.m. in Houston Hall's Benjamin Franklin Room. The board agents will "try to ensure that there is smooth sailing" throughout the two days, during which the NLRB will be accepting ballots, according to NLRB Assistant Regional Director John Breese. In addition to the watchful eyes of the board agents, security precautions include colored ballots -- as no one knows what color the official ballots will be tomorrow, successfully printing and casting fake ballots will be that much more difficult, Breese said. All those with a valid Penn ID who fit the eligibility criteria posted around campus on the official notices of election and are included on the NLRB approved "Excelsior list" may vote. Anyone with only a Penn ID and a firm belief that his vote should count, however, must cast a special challenge ballot to have a shot at legally influencing the outcome of the election. Though all votes may be challenged, votes cast by individuals not on the Excelsior list are challenged automatically and are only considered if the total number of challenge ballots cast is greater than the margin of victory. While the votes themselves are anonymous, each challenge ballot cast is placed in an envelope bearing the voter's name after the vote is sealed. Should the challenge ballots be counted, each name will be debated before the NLRB to determine whether or not the individual in question should be allowed voting rights. "Decide for yourself whether you think you'd be eligible," Deputy Provost Peter Conn urged. "If you feel you may have been mistakenly left off [the Excelsior] list, then by all means come and cast" a challenge ballot. Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania, however, encourages graduate employees to "vote only if you are in the unit," according to GET-UP spokesperson Joanna Kempner. "We do... have a concern that the administrators have urged people who are clearly not eligible to vote" to cast challenge ballots, Kempner said. "They know that the votes aren't going to be counted, so encouraging a lot of people who clearly aren't eligible can really make the election seem less legitimate." Regardless, GET-UP members said they are sure of victory at the polls. "We know that a majority of the eligible voters support us on paper," Kempner said, referring to a GET-UP petition released yesterday. She added that even more voters probably support GET-UP privately. However, the University is less than convinced. "I don't think anybody should count on their voting in favor of the union," Conn said, noting that some students whose names appear on the petition may either be unaware that they signed it at all or may simply have wanted to be left alone, whatever their views -- and votes -- may be. "We look forward quite confidently to the outcome of this process," Conn concluded. Confident as they are, neither GET-UP nor the University anticipate any major problems or interference with the elections. "We would be concerned if the University was passing out pamphlets, just as they would be concerned if we were," Kempner said. "The very fact that there are observers from both parties tends to stifle the impulse that anyone might have to corrupt the system." "We have no reason to anticipate that this wouldn't be a perfectly uneventful... routine process," Conn agreed.

Legal jargon may blur union tax status

(02/21/03 10:00am)

Tax law is for the brave. Wading through the often contradictory information cloaking the tax status of unionizing graduate students, even seasoned veterans tread carefully. "I want to make it clear that I'm not saying [either side] is right or wrong," the Philadelphia City Council's chief staff attorney Stan Shapiro said last night, noting that there's often "some bit of labor law you can point to" hiding in the bowels of the city's tax codes. As administrators and graduate students more used to Chaucer and Freud than wage tax laws attempt to evaluate the potential tax status of a unionized graduate student unit, misunderstandings have abounded. "It's a threat," Graduate Employees Together-University of Pennsylvania spokesperson Joanna Kempner said, responding to pamphlets issued by the Office of the Provost informing graduate students that, under current law, the rate graduate students now pay in city wage tax could double. "By choosing to become 'employees with paychecks' rather than 'students with stipends,' graduate students could become liable for the full amount of Philadelphia wage tax that every other worker in the city pays, including unionized graduate students at Temple University," the flyer said. "We already are employees," Kempner responded. "It's... a false claim on the part of the University that [collective bargaining rights] would somehow change our legal status." Co-president of Temple University Graduate Students Association Jon Rothermel maintained that unionized Temple graduate students still pay the same rate they did before. "The tax status actually hasn't changed for us," Rothermel said. "There hasn't been any change in status" on a federal, state or city level. GET-UP has argued that the only way for the tax burden on graduate employees to increase would be "for the legislation to change or for the University to revoke our status as students," and the group has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Penn under the National Labor Relations Act. GET-UP claims the informational flyer is in fact an attempt to intimidate voters in the upcoming union election. "We occupy dual status" as students and employees, Kempner noted. "If our work contributes to our education, we partake in these tax waivers." Social Security and Medicare taxes, known as FICA taxes, are also a source of concern. Though students are exempted from paying these federal dues by an act of Congress, some fear that, should graduate students be classified as employees, they would have to pay FICA taxes as well. "If someone is reclassified as an employee, their income is subject to... FICA taxes," Internal Revenue Service official Bill Cressman said. Deputy Provost Peter Conn stressed that the flyer, which was "checked and triple-checked and quadruple-checked" prior to being issued, only offered information about the Philadelphia wage tax. "We're not talking about federal tax exposure, we're not talking about state taxes," he said. "The city treats Penn stipends as educational grants for graduate students." "If our students were to be redefined as employees rather than as students, they could become liable for the full amount of the wage tax," he added. As students under current law, Penn's graduate students pay only half of the city's wage tax. "Temple's unionized [teaching assistants] pay 100 percent of the city wage tax in the city," Conn said. "Students don't vote for collective bargaining agreements -- employees vote for collective bargaining agreements," Conn noted. "It would be that they have chosen to reclassify" themselves. But Shapiro, with over 22 years of city government experience behind him, said that he is not familiar with the laws that Penn administrators are citing. "It's not obvious to me that because they become workers, no part of what they receive from the administration can't still be considered tuition aid," Shapiro said. "The University... could presumably find a way to reclassify" graduate students, Shapiro continued. "If they're suggesting they have to reclassify [them], I'm not aware of any such rule.... They ought to be asked to supply documentation of that claim."