AAUP Files Amicus Brief in Columbia University NLRB Case

For more information, contact: Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel, (607) 592-5662, rlieberwitz@aaup.org

Washington, DC— Today, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) filed an amicus brief arguing that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should overturn its 2004 Brown University decision, because graduate assistants are employees who should have collective bargaining rights and collective bargaining rights, in fact, promote academic freedom.

The AAUP amicus brief comes in response to the invitation of the NLRB to file amicus briefs and in keeping with its long history of support for the unionization of graduate assistants who make significant contributions to the teaching and research missions of colleges and universities. The brief addresses two main points from the Brown decision. It argues that graduate assistants in private universities, including those working on federal grant funded research, are employees with the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and it refutes the Brown decision’s speculative claims that collective bargaining would compromise academic freedom and cooperative relationships between faculty mentors and their graduate student mentees.

The brief explains that since graduate assistants perform work in exchange for compensation, they are employees. In fact, when graduate students work as teaching and research assistants, their work is indistinguishable from that performed by university faculty. Graduate students at public universities like the University of Rhode Island and Rutgers are considered employees with collective bargaining rights under state law. The AAUP maintains that all graduate workers should be afforded those rights. The work of graduate assistants is just that, work, and should be subject to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act.

“It is not fair that, currently, only some graduate workers have the basic protections and rights that other American workers have. At a time when higher education is becoming more corporatized, it is critically important that graduate workers have these basic protections and the opportunity for a voice in workplace conditions. We look forward to seeing collective bargaining rights extended to graduate workers at Columbia University and other private universities,” said Dilara Demir, member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT TA/GA steering committee and vice president of the Rutgers Graduate Students’ Association.

Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel, said, “Graduate assistants, like other employees, should have rights to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. Collective bargaining can build positive relationships in universities through negotiations for fair wages and conditions of work, including protections of academic freedom.”

“Graduate workers have organized an important movement across the country, fighting for recognition despite some challenges. Graduate assistants are workers and their contributions to the public good are valuable. We stand with graduate workers nationwide who are organizing for a seat at the table and a voice in the process,” said Howard Bunsis, chair of the American Association of University Professors Collective Bargaining Congress.

More information is available here.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country's colleges and universities.

Media Contact: 
Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel, (607) 592-5662, rlieberwitz@aaup.org
Publication Date: 
Monday, February 29, 2016