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Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Case No. 4-RC-20353 (Nov. 21, 2002)

On May 14, 2003 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) granted review in this case, which raises the issue, once again, about whether graduate students are employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In that review, the Board may revisit its decision in New York University, 332 N.L.R.B. No. 111 (2000), in which the AAUP filed an amicus brief. In New York University, the Board held that certain graduate assistants at NYU were employees under the Act and, therefore, could choose to unionize. In University of Pennsylvania the administration contends that the unionization of graduate students who are employees violates the academic freedom of institutions. On May 27, 2003 the AAUP filed an amicus brief in support of the graduate assistants, arguing that the Board decision in New York University, which found that collective bargaining does not violate the academic freedom of universities, was well reasoned and should not be revisited. The AAUP argues in its amicus brief that: (1) the First Amendment does not immunize universities from the NLRA; (2) national AAUP policies on faculty and graduate student unionization, and local AAUP faculty bargaining experience, demonstrate that unionization is consistent with academic freedom; (3) graduate assistant unionization does not harm faculty-student mentoring relationships; and (4) institutional academic freedom concerns are best addressed through collective bargaining, not in determining whether graduate assistants are employees. In the brief the Association further contends that nothing in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act dictates denying graduate assistants the protection of the NLRA, and that teaching as an academic requirement for graduate assistants should not, on its own, preclude finding that graduate assistants are employees. A copy of the brief is available (.pdf).

Status: This case was essentially overturned by the Brown University decision.