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Private University Graduates Can Unionize

Graduate students are employees.

September 02, 2016


(press release: cdklawyers) // Dallas, Texas // Keith Clouse

A win for graduate student employees--the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has overturned a 2005 Brown University decision and ruled that graduate students working as teachers and research assistants at private universities are employees.  The NLRB issued a 3 to 1 decision in Columbia University where they determined “whether students who perform services at a university in connection with their studies are statutory employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act” (the “Act”).

The NLRB held “that student assistants who have a common-law employment relationship with their university are statutory employees under the [National Labor Relations] Act.”  As a result, student assistants at private colleges and universities are permitted to unionize.  The decision is a triumph for many graduate students and unions throughout the country.  Columbia officials, of course, disagree with the ruling and contend that a student’s relationship with an academic department is not the same as an employee’s relationship with his or her employer.  That said, it is likely that Columbia University will appeal this decision.

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