Saying that they want to form a union, some Pennsylvania State University graduate assistants filed an election petition to do so with the state Labor Relations Board on Wednesday. The Coalition of Graduate Employees, which is working with the Pennsylvania State Education Association, says the university employs 3,724 graduate assistants.
The coalition, along with alumni and other supporters, wrote a letter to Penn State president Eric Barron, asking the university's administration not to interfere in the election. Among those signing was Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and a 1971 Penn State graduate, and Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, who earned his doctorate at Penn State in 1997.
Over the years, the National Labor Relations Board has gone back and forth over whether graduate assistants are primarily students, and therefore ineligible to unionize, or primarily employees who have the right to form unions. On its website, Penn State says it considers its graduate assistants "to be students first and foremost."
Penn State did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday.
In August, the NLRB ruled that graduate assistants are employees and can form unions. The Penn State petition is before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board because the university is a public institution.