#GraduateStudentsUnion

As many of you may have heard and as we discussed in our August E-Update, last week in The Trustemortar-board-2-1551255es of Columbia University in the City of New York, the National Labor Relations Board reversed a twelve-year precedent in holding that student teaching and research assistants at private universities are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act and can therefore unionize.

There has been a flurry of employee-friendly decisions issued by the Labor Board in recent weeks to coincide with – not surprisingly – the conclusion of Member Hirozawa’s three-year term on August 27, 2016. This case, however, irks me more than most.  The Majority stated that preventing graduate assistants the right to unionize “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the [NLRA] without a convincing jurisdiction” because, according to the Majority, “even when such an economic component may seem comparatively slight, relative to other aspects of the relationship between worker and employer, the payment of compensation, in conjunction with the employer’s control, suffices to establish an employment relationship for purposes of the Act.” And yet, in 2004, the Labor Board reached a contrary conclusion – that graduate assistants are not statutory employees who have the right to unionize, because the Labor Board acknowledged that graduate assistants have a primarily academic, not economic, relationship with their universities.  So what’s changed? That is a rhetorical question.  Obviously, nothing has changed, but the make-up of the Labor Board and its current desire to expand the reach of the Act.
Continue Reading The NLRB Changes Its Mind Again

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues on its journey to try to take over the world. On January 13, 2016, the Board issued a Notice and Invitation to File Briefs in Columbia University, a case that involves Graduate Workers of Columbia-GWU, UAW (the Petitioner), who seeks to represent a unit of students who assist faculty with teaching, research, and other miscellaneous duties.

Specifically, the Board asked the parties and amici to address, among other issues, whether the Board should modify or overrule its 2004 decision in Brown University, in which it held that graduate student assistants who perform teaching services at a university in connection with their studies are not statutory employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act (Act). Specifically, the Board found the teaching activities are so closely related to the students’ degree requirements that the students and the University are engaged in more of an educational relationship, rather than an economic one. That meant the Act did not cover those graduate student assistants, and they could not unionize. Notably, Brown University was a reversal of the NLRB’s position in its 2000 New York University case, in which it had held that graduate assistants are employees.  (Also worth noting, New York University was decided by in a Democratic administration, and Brown University in a Republican one).
Continue Reading NLRB Overreach: Grad Students as Employees?