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Brief Urges NLRB to Rule for Graduate Student Employees

By Kelly Hand

In February, the AAUP filed an amicus brief with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that graduate assistants at private-sector institutions should be considered employees with collective bargaining rights. The brief responded to an invitation from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case that arose when the United Auto Workers sought to organize graduate assistants at Columbia University. The invitation called for briefs addressing whether the board should modify or overrule its 2004 decision in Brown University, which found that graduate assistants were not employees and therefore did not have statutory rights to unionize. The AAUP brief argues that the NLRB should overrule Brown and return to its 2000 decision in New York University, which recognized the employee status and collective bargaining rights of graduate assistants under the National Labor Relations Act.

Consistent with the AAUP’s long history of supporting the unionization of graduate assistants, the brief explains that when graduate students work as teaching or research assistants, their work is comparable to that of faculty. The brief also rebuts Columbia University’s arguments that collective bargaining poses a threat to academic freedom and relationships between faculty mentors and graduate students.

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