Sunday, July 18

Labor Board Says Graduate Students at Private Universities Have No Right to Unionize

Once the Labor Board got its 5th member - a Republican - they reversed their decision. Surprise surprise. Now Grad students who voted to form a union at Penn, Tufts, Brown, NYU, and elsewhere will not be allowed to do so.

"Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel for the American Council on Education, a trade group that represents universities and other educational institutions, called the ruling "magnificent" but said he was not surprised by it because of the labor board's changed lineup. The N.Y.U. decision was itself a reversal of the board's decades-old position that graduate assistants should not be able to unionize. The previous decision in the N.Y.U. case overturned over 30 years of determinations by the National Labor Relations Board on whether graduate students who worked as teaching and research assistants were students or employees," Mr. Steinbach said. "And it threatened the traditional relationship between colleges and their graduate student assistants."

That "traditional relationship" - just to clarify for non-academic readers - involves paying grad students to teach many, if not most of the courses at prestigious universities (that cost over $30,000/yr to attend) while paying them 1/5 to 1/10 of what normal professors earn - a below-poverty level wage with no access to health care.

Grad students have never been particularly fond of unionizing - we have little in common with the Auto Workers Union - but it has proven to be the ONLY way to force universities to provide health care and a living wage. UC Berkeley - where I teach - has been unionized for a many years without proving detrimental to grad student education. But private schools are understandably worried - if grad students strike at Penn, Brown, or NYU, little susie's parents will be understandably upset --- more so when they discover, to their shock, that most of her incredibly expensive education is coming from grad students making a poverty-level wage.

No Right to Unionize