Graduate Employees Together – University of Pennsylvania

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Graduate Employees Together – University of Pennsylvania (GET-UP) is a group of graduate student employees at the University of Pennsylvania that is trying to become recognized as a union. The group (GET-UP 1.0), first formed in the spring of 2001, and affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In 2004, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania graduate student employees voted for unionization;[1] however, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), before the votes counted officially, decided that the graduate students in private universities are not employees, while it recognized the graduate students in public universities as employees.[2] The group begin to re-form in 2016 (GET-UP Today), and re-affiliated with AFT in October 2016.[3] On March 2nd, 2017 the group once again decided to go public with their unionization campaign again.[4] The group has not been recognized by the University as a union for the purposes of collective bargaining.[4]



While graduate employee unions are commonplace outside of the United States they exist at less than half of American public universities, and there has been only one recognized union at a private American university.[5] The first graduate employee union in the USA was formed in 1970 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison when the Teaching Assistants Association won recognition and its first contract.[6] Between 1970 and 2000 graduate employees organized many unions at public universities, and today an estimated 20% of graduate employees in the US work under a collective bargaining agreement. (See also: Graduate student employee unionization) Graduate employee unions did not exist at private universities until October 2000, when the NLRB ruled in the landmark case of Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) at New York University (NYU) that graduate employees at private universities are to be considered employees according to the definition put forth in the National Labor Relations Act.

GET-UP 1.0[edit]

The movement between the years 2001-2004 was the first successful campaign of GET-UP, where according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, 60% of the grad employees voted for a union.[1] However, in 2004, as NLRB returned their decision, the official counting never happened.[2]

GET-UP Certification Campaign[edit]

A flurry of student initiated organizing activity took place at private universities in the wake of the 2000 NLRB decision.[7] By the end of 2001 there were active recognition campaigns taking place at many Ivy League schools, including UPenn. The Penn campaign started when a diverse group of graduate students began meeting in the fall of 2000 to discuss concerns related to their employment status. A group formed at UPenn and chose the name GET-UP. A vote was taken by the students and the decision was made to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. The new union began a certification card drive, and on December 27, 2001 GET-UP filed a petition to the NLRB for a union authorization election.[8] A certification election was scheduled for February 26, 2003; however, the National Labor Relations Board overturned the decision to allow graduate students to unionize before the votes could be counted.[9]

GET-UP Authorization Election[edit]

The November 2002 decision by the NLRB allowed for an election to take place in early 2003.[10] However, an appeal was filed in regards to the NLRB decision and the votes were sealed and left uncounted until a ruling could be reached. The NLRB decided to overturn the decision in 2004.[2]

Election Anniversary Strike[edit]

After a year of increasing pressure from GET-UP and its allies failed to convince the University to drop its appeal and allow the NLRB to count the ballots cast in the certification election the union members felt that a significant action was necessary to move the process forward.[11] At the Spring 2004 GET-Up general membership meeting, after a half-hour debate, an 83 percent majority voted to withdraw their labor on the two days of the election's anniversary.[11] The plan was not for a full academic strike, as GET-UP did not ask professors to cancel classes or for undergrads not to attend.[11] Rather, the membership approved of the limited strike as a way of demonstrating their seriousness while still giving the University a chance to drop its appeal and negotiate.[12] There was debate among undergrads, grad students, grad employees, and faculty about whether the limited strike was a good tactic or not, with people from all four groups both for and against the strike.[11]

2004 NLRB National Board Decision[edit]

At the start of the fall semester of 2004 the National Labor Relations Board announced a complete reversal of its 2000 decision in the case of NYU in a 3-2 decision regarding graduate employees at Brown University.[2] The Republican controlled board stated in their decision that "there is a significant risk, even a strong likelihood, that the collective-bargaining process will be detrimental to the educational process."[2] The dissenting opinion stated that "Today's decision is woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality", and further that "It disregards the plain language of" Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which "defines employees so broadly that graduate students who perform services for, and under the control of, their universities are easily covered".[2] With the new board's decision a regional board of the NLRB ruled that the decision also applied in Penn's case.[2] As a result the votes cast in the 2004 election will never be counted and unfair labor practice charges were also dropped, as graduate employees at private Universities are no longer protected employees under the National Labor Relations Act.[9]

GET-UP 2.0 (Today)[edit]


In the fall of 2015, graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania decided to start another unionization campaign, ten years after initial unionization efforts. In the spring of 2016, they ratified a constitution and formalized their presence. According to the organization’s website,[3] the effort named itself GET-UP as a tribute to the first unionization effort (GET-UP 1.0). GET-UP members voted once again to affiliate with the AFT in the fall of 2016.[3]

NLRB Columbia Decision[edit]

On August 23, 2016, the NLRB ruled that graduate student assistants in private universities are statutory employees covered by National Labor Relations Act; this decision is also known as Columbia decision.[13] The 3-1 decision reversed the 2004 Brown University ruling. The majority justified the new ruling by stating that the Brown University decision “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the Act without a convincing justification.”[13]

Certification Campaign[edit]

Following NLRB Columbia Decision, GET-UP began to organize graduate students. On March 2, 2017, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, GET-UP went public with their campaign in a meeting attended by more than 200 people, who voted unanimously to begin public unionization  efforts at the University.[4] The campaign is still ongoing as of April 2017.

Criticism of GET-UP[edit]

As is usual during a unionization drive there is not unanimous approval or disapproval, neither among graduate employees, graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, nor staff. Some specific criticisms that opponents have levied are as follows:

  • As it would only represent graduate employees GET-UP would not represent all graduate students. As can be gleaned from the DP exit poll, many graduate employees have no desire to unionize.[14][14] As mentioned earlier, the two official graduate student government groups have taken a neutral stance towards unionization.[14]
  • Teaching assistants and research assistants already receive full-tuition benefits, essentially receiving an Ivy League education for free. Demanding anything else in addition has been considered excessive by a commentator to the Daily Pennsylvanian.[14]
  • The Undergraduate Assembly condemned GET-UP's 2004 strike, claiming that it negatively affected undergraduate education.[14] Some students were upset that the strike occurred during a critical exam period.[14]
  • GET-UP distributed pamphlets which were critical of the University to visiting prospective undergraduates.[14]
  • The organization emphasizes in published material how many undergraduate classes are not taught by professors, but neglects to note that lecturers largely make up the remainder of instructors, not graduate students.[14]
  • GET-UP protested at former President Judith Rodin's farewell and President Amy Gutmann's subsequent inauguration.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Willig, Spencer. "Poll: Most voted yes on union". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ a b c "History - GET-UP". GET-UP. Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  4. ^ a b c Kahn, Natalie. "Penn graduate students move closer to unionizing with GET-UP group". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  5. ^ "Grad Employees Re-Unionize at New York University—First in the Country | Labor Notes". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  6. ^ "Teaching Assistants' Association - About Us". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  7. ^ "NYU Grad Students Permitted To Unionize | News | The Harvard Crimson". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  8. ^ "Penn grad students file for union election". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  9. ^ a b  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ "NLRB says Penn grad students are employees". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  11. ^ a b c d Passaro, Jon Passaro, Jon Passaro, Jon. "U. officials unfazed by GET-UP picket lines". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  12. ^ "Grad students GET-UP and strike for justice". People's World. 2004-03-05. Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  13. ^ a b "Board: Student Assistants Covered by the NLRA | NLRB". Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i [dead link]