Coalition for Graduate Employees

voting sign
Anne Danahy / WPSU

Graduate assistants at Penn State voted no to unionizing, according to the results that were announced Tuesday.

Grad student organizers say they’re disappointed. Jerome Clarke, co-president of the Coalition of Graduate Employees, pointed to what he called divide and conquer tactics by Penn State. That includes the university saying international students’ visas could be affected if there was ever a strike.

“We do believe that our primary antagonist in this campaign was fear,” Clarke said.

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

After years of organizing, Penn State graduate student employees have begun casting their ballots on whether or not to unionize. 

As voting began Tuesday, graduate employees and supporters rallied outside Old Main, the university administration building.

“I think there’s a lot of energy here and it’s really inspiring,” said Nick Dietrich, a doctoral student in political science.

He thinks grad students contribute a lot to the university and deserve a say in working conditions.

In a nearby building, grad students were casting their ballots.

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

Penn State graduate assistants are scheduled to vote on unionizing in April.

But not if grad student Michael Cronin can help it.

Cronin filed a motion to intervene with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. He got help from the conservative-leaning organization, The Fairness Center. Communications director Conner Drigotas said Cronin felt it was important to make his voice heard.

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

A group of graduate students at Penn State was hard at work.

They weren't getting ready for an exam or preparing a paper for a conference. Instead, they were making signs and strategizing. Their goal is to unionize graduate assistants who work for Penn State.

Garret Ducharme is working toward a PhD in physics. He wants to see a union.

“I’ve noticed a lot of problems in my department, things like unequal pay, unequal teaching responsibilities, unequal work responsibilities among graduate students,” Ducharme said.

Grad student rally
Anne Danahy / WPSU

"What do we want? Unions! When do we want it? Now."

That chant was part of the demonstration Penn State graduate student employees who want to unionize held Wednesday in front of Old Main, the university administration building. 

Among those clapping and cheering at a pro-union rally were faculty, employees and politicians.

Derek Fox, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics, said graduate students have voted to unionize at other institutions and the sky hasn’t fallen.

Penn State Graduate Employees Rally For Unionization

Feb 17, 2016
students at a rally
Jaimee Kester / WPSU

The Coalition for Graduate Employees at Penn State University Park held a rally on the steps of Old Main to kick off a campaign to unionize the university’s 3,500 graduate employees. They have been working towards this point since September when the coalition officially announced its intentions.

Nathaniel Porter is a fifth year Ph.D. student and graduate employee in the sociology department at Penn State. He says graduate employees are vital at the university and their wages should reflect that.