national labor relations boardIn a stunning reversal of its existing policy, the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just ruled that private-university graduate students can unionize in order to secure pay and other benefits associated with their work. Responding to a petition from Columbia University grad students, the NLRB declared that students who conduct research and help to teach classes are employees, and that, as such, they may unionize.

In 2013 New York University was the first private university to recognize a graduate-student union. Since then, many grad students had held elections and begun to form unions which were opposed by university management, claiming (as at Harvard) “that unionization will destroy academic programs and freedoms, mentoring and research.” Students had argued that unionizing would enable them to be paid for work that benefited the universities and to secure livable wages rather than rely on student loans and on grants made to the universities. The NLRB had upheld the universities since 2004 until this week’s ruling.

It is expected that graduate-student union elections will be held at most private universities this fall.

Photo credit. Piece by Robert Booth.

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