The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that graduate student assistants at Brown University in Providence, R.I., are students under the law—not employees—and thus cannot form a unit for collective bargaining. The United Auto Workers union had sought recognition as the bargaining agent representing some Brown graduate students.
The decision overturns a 2000 NLRB ruling that allowed some 1,500 graduate student assistants at New York University to join a union. It does not affect the status of students at public universities and colleges who have been able to join labor unions since the 1960s. The 3-to-2 vote was along party lines, with the Republican members’ votes as the majority. The decision is expected to impact many unionization efforts under way at private universities across the country.
“Because they are first and foremost students, and their status as a graduate student assistant is contingent on their continued enrollment as students, we find that they are primarily students,” the majority decision states.
Dissenting NLRB members call the ruling out of touch with reality. “The result of the board’s ruling is harsh,” they write. “Not only can universities avoid dealing with graduate student unions, they are also free to retaliate against graduate students who act together to address their working conditions.”