U Penn grad students fight for their rights

PHILADELPHIA — Following the successful campaigns at universities across the country, graduate student employees at the University of Pennsylvania are working to gain union recognition. Graduate Employees Together–University of Pennsylvania is an organization formed by graduate student employees and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Its primary purpose is to improve graduate student employee life through unionization.

Their efforts have also dealt with the fundamental issues that are common to each and every graduate student in the community. GET-UP membership is open to any graduate student employee, including international students. Members of GET-UP have democratic decision-making rights within the organization.

These decisions include setting demands for fair pay, better working conditions and benefits for all. The organization has continued to fight for adequate, affordable and comprehensive health coverage for all graduate students and their dependents. After extensive research and input from the graduate students, GET-UP communicated its demands for quality coverage to the university’s administration. While most of GET-UP’s requests fell on deaf ears, the university has recently granted limited health care coverage to some graduate student employees.

Unlike other universities, the University of Pennsylvania does not match graduate stipends to cost-of-living estimates. The current stipend amounts are well below the estimated minimum cost of living for a single adult in Philadelphia. GET-UP is seeking regular, publicly accountable stipend adjustments to meet changes in the costs of housing, food, course materials, child care, university fees and other necessities.

GET-UP seeks to ensure tolerable and equitable conditions for the teaching and research assistants that support university faculty. The graduate student employees are often given unreasonably high workloads and inadequate office space. GET-UP seeks enforcement of existing caps on workloads, compensation for teaching-related costs, adequate workspace and the restriction of teaching and research responsibility to activities commensurate with preparation for a life of scholarship and leadership.

For more information about GET-UP and their struggles, consult their web site at www.getuponline.org.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.