Posts Tagged ‘NLRB’


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It took two and a half years but, on the basis of yesterday’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (pdf), research and teaching assistants at Columbia University now have the right to form a union (as GWC-UAW Local 2110).

It comes as no surprise that Columbia’s administration opposed the ruling:

The university said in a statement Tuesday that it’s reviewing the ruling, but that it “disagrees with this outcome because we believe the academic relationship students have with faculty members and departments as part of their studies is not the same as between employer and employee.”

First and foremost, Columbia said, “students serving as research or teaching assistants come to Columbia to gain knowledge and expertise, and we believe there are legitimate concerns about the impact of involving a nonacademic third party in this scholarly training.”

And the consequences of the NLRB ruling extend far beyond Columbia:

NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reports that “only a small fraction of graduate students at public universities are currently represented by unions — but the decision governing private university students is expected to lead to unionization efforts that could organize tens of thousands more.”

The NLRB had long held that students who teach or research at a private university were not employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act, Yuki reports. That changed in 2000, when the board decided a case in favor of students, and changed again with another ruling four years later. Now the NLRB has reversed itself yet again.

In Tuesday’s decision, the board majority wrote that the 2004 ruling “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the Act, without a convincing justification in either the statutory language or the policies of the Act.”


Not surprisingly, Yale (where graduate-student employees have been attempting to organize their own union for 25 years) echoed Columbia’s response:

Peter Salovey, president of Yale, said in a separate statement that the “mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars” and that he’d “long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be ‘supervisors’ of their graduate student ‘employees.’”

But the American Association of University Professors, which argued in an amicus brief in the Columbia case that collective bargaining can improve graduate students’ academic freedom, applauded the NLRB decision.

“This is a tremendous victory for student workers, and the AAUP stands ready to work with graduate employees to defend their rights, including rights to academic freedom and shared governance participation,” Howard Bunsis, chair of the association’s Collective Bargaining Congress and a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, said in a statement. “Graduate employees deserve a seat at the table and a voice in higher education.”


The National Labor Relations Board [ht: sm] has decided that Northwestern University football players cannot form a union.

The board cited the unique nature of college sports in saying it would foster instability to permit Northwestern football players to form a union while players elsewhere in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are not.

“Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that because of the nature of sports leagues…it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case,” the decision said. . .

The unionization effort, along with recent lawsuits seeking to increase college players’ rights, had the potential to upend the business of college sports. Schools in college football’s top division turned a $1.4 billion profit on $3.4 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ended June 2014, according to data schools submit to the U.S. Department of Education.

While the NLRB’s decision leaves no recourse for Northwestern players to appeal, it did leave open the door to other college athletes’ winning the right to unionize in the future.


As a result of the National Labor Relations Board’s latest decision, the members of the university precariat find themselves in a stronger, less-precarious position.

The decision on Case 19-RC-102521, in response to a petition by the Service Employees International Union, Local 925 seeking to represent a unit of all nontenure-eligible contingent faculty members employed by Pacific Lutheran University, affirms the right of those faculty members to form a union. This is a major victory for the growing number of contingent faculty members in American colleges and universities (now amounting to some two-thirds of all faculty in institutions of higher education in the United States).

There were two significant criteria behind the decision—one having to do with religion (the religious nature of the institution and of the employees’ role in the institution), the other with the nature of the employees’ work (whether or not they should be considered part of management).

While both criteria are important, I am most interested in the second: the grounds on which the NLRB found that Pacific Lutheran “failed to demonstrate that full-time contingent faculty members are managerial employees.”

In the famous Yeshiva University case, the NLRB found that faculty members participated in shared governance and thus were considered part of management. Therefore, they had no right to form a union. But the structure of university governance has changed since 1980. According to the latest decision,

Time appears to have confirmed the wisdom of the Court’s decision to address only the case then before it. Over the 30-plus years since Yeshiva was decided, the university model of delivering higher education has evolved considerably. As one commentator has explained:

The rise of consumerism, a growing push for accountability and declining public support for education are contributing to what many call the ‘corporatization’ of higher education. Nonprofit colleges and universities are adopting corporate models, cutting costs and seeking profit-making opportunities.

Indeed, our experience applying Yeshiva has generally shown that colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators, which has the effect of concentrating and centering authority away from the faculty in a way that was contemplated in Yeshiva, but found not to exist at Yeshiva University itself. Such considerations are relevant to our assessment of whether the faculty constitute managerial employees.

A common manifestation of this “corporatization” of higher education that is specifically relevant to the faculty in issue here is the use of “contingent faculty,” that is, faculty who, unlike traditional faculty, have been appointed with no prospect of tenure and often no guarantee of employment beyond the academic year.

The fact is, most faculty members—both tenure-track and contingent—find themselves increasingly in the position of non-management employees, taking orders from administrators, with at best an advisory capacity with respect to most major decisions in their colleges and universities.

The latest NLRB decision recognizes that university administrators (such as the president, the provost/dean of graduate studies, the vice president for development and university relations, the vice president for finance and operations, the vice president for admission and enrollment services, the vice president of student life/dean of students, and the academic deans) are given faculty status. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that most of the faculty, who do the bulk of teaching and research within higher education, are not administrators and do not participate in any kind of shared governance of the university.

Not in the new corporate university.


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