Five Things STEM Students Should Know About the Upcoming Union Election

March 23, 2018

1.) All STEM students on assistantships or traineeships WILL be included in the bargaining unit and represented by the union, if a union is elected. Graduate students on a fellowship are not eligible to vote and will not be included in the bargaining unit.
2.) At this point, no one knows what a final contract would look like if the union wins the election.

  • Stipends could be impacted as a result of good faith collective bargaining. Some students’ stipends could go up, some could go down and some could stay the same.
  • A contract could bring limitations on whether research performed on assistantships could be used for academic purposes, including dissertations, and could contain restrictions limiting research opportunities.
  • The union could seek to limit opportunities for students who are not in the bargaining unit (e.g., fellows), for example preventing those not on assistantships from teaching or even providing guest lectures in classes for educational experience.
  • A contract could include rules regarding assistantship hours (e.g., limitations on hours) that could have the practical effect of limiting certain types of research activities, including attending conferences or professional meetings or being involved in some research projects.
  • For many STEM students, it is difficult to distinguish research conducted as part of their assistantship from the time spent on dissertation research. If there were a union, that likely would have to change to distinguish assistantship responsibilities – over which a union could bargain – from academic matters outside of collective bargaining.
3.)  At many public universities where graduate students are unionized, like Michigan, Michigan State and the University of California, research assistants are excluded from the graduate student unions. That’s not true at Penn State, where the majority of graduate assistants are Research Assistants.
4.) The election is decided by the majority of those who actually vote (e.g., if only 100 students vote, and the union gets 51 votes, all 3,800 Penn State graduate students on assistantships or traineeships would be represented by the union). Make sure you vote to have your voice heard on this important issue.
5.) If the union is elected, you cannot opt out of the bargaining unit and union representation. The election is your opportunity to opt out — a majority of those who vote will decide the issue for all Penn State graduate assistants and trainees. The election will be held in April. Learn the facts, make an educated decision, and VOTE!

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