Unionization Guidelines

Guidelines for Faculty on Graduate Student Unionization


Deans, department chairs, graduate group chairs, and faculty members who direct graduate students are considered “supervisors” by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Supervisors may freely express their views about graduate student unionization. However, the NLRB offers the acronym TIPS to indicate that supervisors may not: 

  • Make Threats of harm to graduate students;
  • Interrogate or question graduate students;
  • Make Promises of benefit to graduate students; or
  • Spy on or place under surveillance graduate students or union meetings or otherwise conduct themselves so as to give the impression that they are watching graduate students to find out about their union activities.

In addition, supervisors may not:

1.  Require or request that a graduate student come to their office to talk about union organizing;

2.  Ask a graduate student to report on union activities;

3.  Make changes in wages, hours, and working conditions, unless such changes are in accordance with customary practice;

4.  Discipline a graduate student because of his or her union membership or activities.  The University may, however, enforce its rules impartially and in accordance with customary action, irrespective of a graduate student's union membership or activity. Discipline is appropriate as long as such action follows customary practice and is done without regard to union membership or activity.  Such action should not normally be taken, however, without checking in advance with the appropriate graduate group chair and/or associate dean.


It is permissible for supervisors to:

1.  State their position on union representation;

2.  State the reasons why they have taken such a position so long as those reasons are not threats or promises;

3.  Point out the importance of the union representation issue;

4.  Discuss the financial obligations, such as dues, which graduate students would have to assume if they were represented by a union and had to become members;

5.  Tell graduate students the facts concerning any experience they may have had with unions;

6.  Tell graduate students that in collective bargaining neither side is required to agree to what the other side wants, although the parties must bargain in good faith;

7.  Tell graduate students that if a majority votes for a union, Penn will be required by law to deal with the union rather than each student individually, even with respect to individual problems concerning wages, hours, and other conditions of employment;

8.  Discuss the secret ballot election that may be conducted by the NLRB and the facts that no one need ever know how a person voted and that even those people who sign union authorization cards are under no legal or moral obligation to vote for the union;

9.  Emphasize the importance of voting in the election and point out that the matter will be decided by a majority of those who actually vote; 

10.  Answer all inquiries truthfully or direct a graduate student to the places where he or she can find an answer.