The National Labor Relations Board this week reversed a regional director’s decision that had stymied efforts by graduate teaching and research assistants at New York University to vote on union representation.
Monday’s 2-to-1 decision does not give the graduate assistants the green light to engage in collective bargaining, but it does say that they deserve a full hearing on their request for a union vote. The regional director had rejected that request in June without a hearing, citing a 2004 decision by the national board that halted unionization of teaching assistants at private colleges on the grounds that they were students, not workers.
In this week’s ruling, the two commissioners writing the majority opinion, Craig Becker and Mark Gaston Pearce, also cite the 2004 decision, in a case involving Brown University, and say there are “compelling reasons” for reconsidering it.
They also note that NYU has changed its relationship with graduate teaching assistants in recent years and now treats most as adjunct faculty members rather than students.
In 2001, NYU became the first private university in the country to recognize a graduate-employee union. That contract expired in 2005 and the university declined to renew it because of the NLRB’s 2004 decision against graduate-employee unions.
Graduate students at NYU have been fighting back, going on strike and pressuring the university to voluntarily recognize their union.
The American Federation of Teachers praised this week’s decision to reopen the door to possible bargaining rights for graduate students at private colleges.
Unionization supporters have been optimistic that the national board, as reconfigured under President Obama, would be friendlier to their cause.
The petition seeking a union-representation vote for NYU graduate assistants was filed by a local chapter of the United Automobile Workers. The case now goes back to the regional labor board’s director for a hearing.
Original publication can be found here, by Katherine Mangan.