Like Countable?

Install the App
TRY NOW

Should Grad Students Be Allowed To Unionize?

by Countable | 8.28.17

What’s the story?

About a year ago, just before fall semester 2016, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that teaching and research assistants at private universities are employees, and therefore have the right to form unions. The ruling, known as Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90 (Aug. 23, 2016), said that students "who have a common-law employment relationship with their university are statutory employees under the [National Labor Relations] Act."

As grad students head back to school this year, their future bargaining rights are unclear. Donald Trump is set to create a Republican-majority NLRB, and its current Chairman is none other than Philip Miscimarra--the author of the sole dissent in Columbia.

Why does it matter?

In the past year, grad students at over a dozen private universities have filed petitions or participated in elections to form unions. As the Washington Post reported, "Many grad students say collective bargaining is the only way universities will listen to their demands for balanced workloads, higher pay and comprehensive health insurance." In the same article, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “the truth is that grads, alongside a growing army of their contingent academic peers, grade the papers, teach the classes and perform the research that creates new knowledge and keeps universities running.”

Not everyone agrees. Boston College Provost David Quigley sent out a letter last Monday saying Boston College - like Seattle University and Columbia University - oppose the NLRB ruling.

"Our position is that our graduate student research and teaching assistants are best characterized as students - not employees - and that the mentoring relationship to which faculty commit themselves in the scholarly training of graduate students is a partnership that differs from that of university employees or any other workplace association," Quigley wrote.

This argument may become policy once Republicans take control of the labor board. Miscimarra is already in control of the NLRB, and one of Trump’s two nominations to the board has already been confirmed: Marvin Kaplan won Senate confirmation in early August, William Emanuel is waiting for a vote.

Joseph Ambash, a lawyer who’s represented universities fighting grad-student unions, told the Post, "Because the chairman of the NLRB wrote a vigorous dissent in the case, one would have to assume that when there is a Republican majority, this is one of the decisions that’s going to be reversed. The new majority is likely to take up the pending appeals from universities…and those appeals may result in a different outcome than would have been the case under the Obama board."

What do you think?

Are grad students and teaching assistants employees or students? Should the Senate confirm nominees that would reverse the NLRB ruling? Should teachers be allowed to unionize at all? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps how to vote, and comment below.

—Josh Herman

RELATED READING

Anti-Union National Labor Relations Board Coming?

On This Date: FDR's National Labor Relations Act Took Effect

(Photo Credit: sshepard / iStockphoto)

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(121)
  • Beth
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes. The Universities use their labor without good compensation or benefits instead of hiring more professors.

    Like (53)
    Follow
    Share
  • Andy1
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes. What the right wants everyone to forget is unions are the reason the middle class exists. The attack on unions in states like Wisconsin are a main reason the middle class has been shrinking. Compare the finances of WI to neighboring MN and you'll see exactly which ideas are better for the average American. Turn off the propaganda stream and look at the facts. The GOP is screwing you over - unless you're in the top 1%.

    Like (42)
    Follow
    Share
  • Sharon
    08/28/2017
    ···

    I do not believe unions are the enemy. Their existence began to protect workers from predatory, exploitative, greedy bosses and company owners. They've certainly had problems over the years. Today, with companies (1) demanding virtually 24/7 access to white collar and blue collar professionals alike, (2) pulling shenanigans avoid granting benefits like overtime and health insurance, (3) giving minimal wage increases while reporting healthy profits, (4) eliminating pensions and/or reducing matching for IRAs, and (5) paying obscene monies to upper management while laying off the rank and file, I would argue unionization - including white collar professionals - is needed as much as ever. To answer the question posed: As a masters level graduate student, I acted as a research assistant for 2 years and a teaching assistant for 1 without pay. I did not feel exploited because I had a mentor who gave me authorship on the many articles to which I contributed. My contributions were not confined to data collection and research, data analysis, and writing. I was lucky. Not every graduate student is treated so ethically or with such respect, nor is every graduate student so intellectually enriched. I would support unionization in recognition that many graduate students are treated poorly with minimal effort to ensure their preparation to take their places in a more advanced program or their field. I also support unionization including white collar professionals, traditionally thought to have protected status and without need for union protection, because white collar professionals are also being abused and exploited. Unions also can support members' fights against discrimination.

    Like (38)
    Follow
    Share
  • Karen
    08/28/2017
    ···

    I belonged to a grad student union. My checks as a research assistant came from the university, with the usual taxes deducted. It's not a question of "are they students or employees?" They are both.

    Like (33)
    Follow
    Share
  • M
    08/28/2017
    ···

    The use of graduate students is a situation ripe for abuse, in some cases little more than cheap slave labor. If they are classified as employees they should have bargaining and appeal rights.

    Like (20)
    Follow
    Share
  • Angela
    08/28/2017
    ···

    This bill is very important not only to grad students but adjunct faculty as well. We could well use health insurance and higher pay! No one wants to depend on welfare for basic needs!!

    Like (20)
    Follow
    Share
  • Savannah
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes, graduate students perform vital services for universities in both teaching and bringing in research dollars. They are employees and as such they should have the ability to unionize in support of their interests.

    Like (19)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jerise
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Absolutely. They work, for pay. They need someone to represent them.

    Like (19)
    Follow
    Share
  • ACM4460
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes. As a graduate student in law school I cannot begin to tell you all of the benefits a union could bring to all students in our position.

    Like (15)
    Follow
    Share
  • Azrael
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Any group wishing to unionize should be permitted to do so

    Like (15)
    Follow
    Share
  • John
    08/28/2017
    ···

    For far too long universities have used grad students as cheap labor. If they want to continue to use grad students as labor, they should be able to collectively bargain for work rules and wages. If universities don't need grad student labor, then don't use them. But they shouldn't be allowed to have it both ways.

    Like (12)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jeffrey
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Nope. This is part of their education, any compensation they receive is a bonus. I do however find it amusing that these Liberal colleges are now forced to fight off the unions trying to unionise student staff! That is fricken hilarious!

    Like (12)
    Follow
    Share
  • KansasTamale
    08/28/2017
    ···

    I agree with the Union board. These grad students & research assistants are used by universities to teach classes & do lots of work. They are employees although they are not paid in the scale that they should be. They might also need health insurance.

    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
  • I.Got.an.Idea...
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes, Grad Students should be allowed to unionize. All employees should be allowed to unionize. After witnessing the unethical acts committed against my fiancé and observing how other grad students were mis-treated and hearing other stories over the years about how tenured professors treat grad students whom have dedicated their lives to the schools, the labs and the professors who hold all the cards and do not support a student on their defense, it is despicable.

    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
  • Dean
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Grad students should retain their right to unionize, a human right. Being against unions is being against the 1st Amendment, the right to assemble and to free speech.

    Like (10)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jude
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes. They are employees and should be allowed to form unions.

    Like (9)
    Follow
    Share
  • Raymond
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes.

    Like (8)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jacob
    08/29/2017
    ···

    We must protect unions and the rights of all people to unionize. We need to reignite and support the labor movement and make sure more people are able to unionize and bargain collectively. We must stop union busting.

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
  • Deirdre
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Yes they should

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
  • Suzanne
    08/28/2017
    ···

    Without a doubt

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share