On July 15, 2004 the National Labor Relations Board issued a 3-2 decision reversing the legal precedent granting graduate student employees the right to form a union and declaring that, under federal law, graduate student assistants are not employees. This decision, which took the Board more than two and a half years to issue, led to NYU’s refusal to renegotiate our union contract.
Unlike the NLRB decision in our case at NYU, which was unanimous, this decision broke along partisan lines with the 3 Republican appointees expressing the majority opinion and the 2 Democratic appointees forcefully dissenting. In its decision, the Republican majority rejected the precedent set in the decision on our bargaining unit and the subsequent decisions reached by multiple Regional Labor Board directors concerning other campuses. Instead, it invoked outdated decisions from the 1970s, blatantly ignoring the realities of academia today and how collective bargaining has actually worked at NYU and elsewhere.
The dissenting opinion, written by the two Democratic appointees, disagrees strongly, saying, “the majority’s reasons, at bottom, amount to the claim that graduate student collective bargaining is simply incompatible with the nature and mission of the university. This revelation will surely come as an institution where graduate students now work under a collective bargaining agreement reached in the wake of the decision that is overruled here.”
It goes on to say: “Today’s decision is woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality…It disregards the plain language of the statute –which defines employees so broadly that graduate student who perform services for, and under the control of, their universities are easily covered– to make a policy decision that rightly belongs to Congress. The reasons offered by the majority for its decision do not stand up to scrutiny.”
As a result of the Brown decision, NYU has faced no legal obligation to bargain a new contract with GSOC. However, they also face no legal barrier against negotiating a new contract with us, and could do so at any time.
To read more about this decision:
The National Labor Relations Board’s decision on Brown University.
New York Times article on the ruling.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s statement on the decision.
The UAW statement on the ruling.