Graduate students often teach classes and conduct valuable research while earning an advanced degree. However, according to a proposed rule by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), graduate students are not considered employees, meaning they do not have the right to unionize. Graduate students from leading private institutions across the country have mobilized to fight for unionization to secure higher wages, better benefits, and protection for workers to help deal with sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. If passed, the rule would undercut those efforts.
According to the professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University and general counsel for the American Association of University Professors, the current NLRB is made up of mostly conservative board members who happen to be extremely political and intent on overruling decisions made by previous administrations that expanded employee rights to unionize. According to the professor, the NLRB made these decisions on a case-by-case basis in the past, but that appears to be changing.
Is Graduate Work Considered Work or Education?
At the heart of the argument is whether the teaching and research that graduate students conduct is considered work, or if it is part of their continued education. In 2016, the NLRB decided that Columbia students who were paid to teach and conduct research were considered employees and had the right to unionize. Prior to that, there was some back and forth among NLRB members, which impacted students’ rights to unionize. Prior to the Columbia decision, representatives from nine prestigious universities argued that graduate students have an academic relationship with the university, rather than an economic one. However, the NLRB ruled that graduate students could have a dual status of economic and academic.
Following the Columbia decision, students have come together to form unions at several private universities such as Harvard University, Brown University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and several others voting in favor of unionization. Graduate students who are currently negotiating for employee status are unsure about how the proposed rule will impact their efforts. If the rule is passed, students have vowed to continue to fight for unionization.
Students at the University of Chicago, Yale University, Boston College, and the University of Pennsylvania sent petitions to the NLRB but withdrew them out of fear that Trump-appointed members would issue an anti-union decision. According to the executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, it is Congress that has the authority to decide employment status, but the NLRB rule seems to be taking over that authority.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green, P.C. Assist Clients with Employment Issues
If you are a graduate student at a college or university, and your employment status prevents you from being able to unionize, contact the Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Protecting your legal rights is our top priority and we will ensure that you receive the financial compensation to which you are entitled. To schedule an initial consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.