Graduate Students Clear Hurdle to Form Unions

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From New York Times:

Students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities will be allowed to vote to unionize under a ruling Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board that found that they are employees under federal labor law.

The case arose from a union election petition filed by a group of primarily graduate students at Columbia University, who are seeking to form a union that will join the United Automobile Workers.

The three Democratic members of the board made up the majority; the lone Republican member dissented. A fifth spot on the board has been vacant since last year.

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.”

The current board disagreed, arguing that it could treat students as employees if they perform and are compensated for work that the university oversees, even if their relationship with the university was substantially broader.

Graduate students at a number of public universities already have the right to organize under state laws.

“Statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship,” the majority wrote in its decision. “It is not foreclosed by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the act does not reach,” it said, referring to the National Labor Relations Act.

Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts, said, “We are elated that the N.L.R.B. has overturned Brown and restored our collective bargaining rights.”