In a 3-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that “student assistants who perform work at the direction of their university for which they are compensated are statutory employees.” In The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York and Graduate Workers of Columbia–GWC, UAW, 364 NLRB No. 90, the NLRB also rejected the argument that imposition of collective bargaining on such students would improperly intrude into the educational process and expressly overruled Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004). Chairman Pearce, Member Hirozawa, and Member McFerran comprised the majority, and Member Miscimarra wrote a strenuous dissent.
This pendulum swing away from Brown was not unexpected, but the reversal of Brown was emphatic, and the unit that the NLRB approved includes a wide range of students and tasks:
All student employees who provide instructional services, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Preceptors, Course Assistants, Readers and Graders): All Graduate Research Assistants (including those compensated through Training Grants) and All Departmental Research Assistants employed by the Employer at all of its facilities, including Morningside Heights, Health Sciences, Lamont-Doherty and Nevis facilities.
Public universities will not be directly affected, but private universities must consider not just union organizing efforts, but also the application of National Labor Relations Act to handbooks, rules, disciplinary proceedings, and other aspects of educational administration.