In a major decision that opens the door for graduate students across the country to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that grad students who work as teaching and research assistants are employees covered by federal labor laws.
The 3-1 decision — which stems from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University in New York who wished to join the United Auto Workers union — reverses a 2004 decision involving Rhode Island's Brown University that had held that grad students are not employees because they are primarily students.
The majority wrote that the Brown decision "deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the (National Labor Relations) Act without a convincing justification."
The decision states: "The Board has the statutory authority to treat student assistants as statutory employees, where they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated. Statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship; it is not foreclosed by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the Act does not reach."