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Graduate Students at Private Universities Win the Right to Unionize!

Dear Commons Community,

In a reversal of a 2004 decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.  The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who were seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as student stipends and the quality of their health insurances. As reported by the New York Times:

“Punctuating a string of Obama-era moves to shore up labor rights and expand protections for workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.

The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who are seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as the quality of their health insurance and the timeliness of stipend payments.

Echoing longstanding complaints from blue-collar workers that they have become replaceable cogs in a globalized economic machine, the effort reflects a growing view among more highly educated employees in recent decades that they, too, are at the mercy of faceless organizations and are not being treated like professionals and aspiring professionals whose opinions are worthy of respect.

“What we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t really money,” said Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts. “It’s a question of power and democracy in a space in the academy that’s increasingly corporatized, hierarchical. That’s what we’re most concerned about.”

Columbia and other universities that weighed in with the board before the ruling argued that collective bargaining would lead to a more adversarial relationship between students and the university that would undermine its educational purpose.

The decision reverses a 2004 ruling by the board involving graduate student assistants at Brown University. The ruling held that the assistants could not be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

This is a win for organized labor and for graduate students around the country.

Tony

 

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