NLRB: Graduate Students Are Employees; They Can Join Unions

By Beatrice Walters, Parent Herald August 24, 02:14 pm

Ever since it has become popular for professors to include teaching and research assistant work in the curriculum of their graduate students, the question whether to consider these people as students or school employees arose. Now, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has provided an official answer: graduate students are employees who can join or form labor unions as other workers can.

Instead of hiring full-time employees, colleges rely on doctoral students to teach classes as part of their doctoral curriculum. They get paid lower than full-time employees so basically, the job gets done on a lower cost which is considered by others to be exploitative in nature. This is the common situation in most universities today, according to The Washington Post

The graduate students, of course, ask for their rights as employees to be recognized but the request comes with complications. It is because there is no clear distinction whether or not they should be called employees because they do ordinary employee work or if they are students because their teaching job is part of their student's curriculum.

The Wall Street Journal reports a recent case involving a group of Columbia University students who wanted to join a union and be protected by employee rights for the work they contribute to the said educational institution. First, they had to be recognized as employees instead of students in order to join a union. In a 3-1 decision, the NLRB just gave them the go-signal to legally do just that.

The decision meant a lot for the Columbia University students and graduate students in general. Once they join a union, the graduate students can ask for a higher salary and have a say in what is included on their curriculum, a process called collective bargaining.

In private colleges and universities, they can bargain what classes they want to teach and when they would do the work. They can also legally strike against the university as part of a labor union (via The Wall Street Journal).

The Wall Street Journal further reports that the NLRB decision is also applicable to undergraduate students working as teaching fellows, assistants etc. The decision is historical as it will change the labor conditions of most academic instructors. As per American Association of University Professors, fifty percent of faculty appointments are part-time workers. One-fifth of these appointments are graduate students.

In your opinion, are graduate students who work as research and teaching assistants considered as employees or students? Sound off your thoughts in the Comments section and follow Parent Herald for more news and updates.

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