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Collective Bargaining

Academic collective bargaining includes the unionization of all sectors of the higher education workforce—from tenure-line faculty to graduate student employees, and from academic professionals to support staff. The growth of academic collective bargaining has occurred in two waves. The first was the expansion of faculty and support staff collective bargaining fueled by the changes in federal and state labor laws during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The second was the rapid increase in graduate-employee unionization during the 1990s in response to the increased use of graduate-employee labor.

Private vs. Public Institutions

In recent years, faculty unionization has occurred primarily at state institutions rather than private colleges and universities. Unionization in the public sector is based on state law, much of which expressly allows faculty to unionize. Formal unionization in the private sector is governed by federal law and the US Constitution, where the ability to unionize is much more uncertain. In 1980 the US Supreme Court, in National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) v. Yeshiva University, held that faculty at that institution were "managerial employees" and thus excluded from the coverage of the National Labor Relations Act. This has precluded the unionization of many private sector tenure-track faculty, though many non-tenure-track faculty have been successful at unionizing. Faculty at religiously affiliated institutions may also be precluded from formal unionization due to the 1979 US Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. Despite the chilling effect of these decisions, a good number of private-sector AAUP chapters continue to maintain the benefits and protections of collective bargaining. Finally, the formal unionization of graduate student employees has been the subject of much turmoil, with the NLRB finding that they could not unionize in 2004, and reversing that position in 2016, and in 2019 proposing regulations that would preclude unionization. 

AAUP Collective Bargaining Chapters

Local AAUP chapters began pursuing faculty collective bargaining in the early 1970s as a means to protect professional standards and improve the economic status of the faculty. In 1973, the AAUP adopted the Statement on Collective Bargaining, recognizing that collective bargaining is consistent with the AAUP’s defense of such important standards as academic freedom, shared governance, and due process. The AAUP’s approach to collective bargaining is unique in its focus on faculty and other academic professionals; its commitment to protecting academic freedom and shared governance; and its emphasis on grassroots organizing and local autonomy. Currently, eighty local AAUP chapters have been recognized as collective bargaining agents representing faculty, graduate employees, academic professionals, and contingent faculty from all sectors of higher education.

If you have questions about academic collective bargaining, e-mail our national staff.

See more resources on collective bargaining.