Update on grad student unionizing

by Jane on June 22, 2011

New developments over at NYU with larger potential impact:  an NLRB official says that grad students trying may actually be employees:

In a decision issued last week, Elbert F. Tellem, acting director of the NLRB’s regional office in Manhattan, said the graduate assistants, practically speaking, have “a dual relationship” with the university that is “both academic and economic” and that “does not necessarily preclude a finding of employee status” for them. Although they receive financial aid as students, they also perform services under the university’s “control and direction,” for which they are compensated by it, he said.

A little backstory from the NY Times:

In 2000, a majority of N.Y.U.’s graduate assistants voted to join the auto workers’ union, and two years later they became the first such group at a private university in the United States to sign a union contract with their university’s administration. The four-year accord raised stipends by nearly 40 percent, improved health benefits and paid the assistants extra if their work took more than 20 hours a week.
But after the labor board’s 2004 ruling took away their right to unionize and bargain for a contract, the assistants were unable to persuade the university to sign a new contract.

That one can be both worker and student was an idea key to UC postdocs being able to unionize and negotiate a pay increase (or more properly, an end to the ludicrously low salaries of some departments.)  For postdocs it’s an even sillier argument — does anyone honestly believe that a postdoc is a post-post-graduate scholar, rather than a journeyman professor, or at least, a gun-for-hire?*

PS – I wonder if graduate students are talking about this on GradHacker?

*(At my last institution, Fellows were handed a memo from the counsel’s office, advising us that for tax purposes we were fellows not employees, and as such had NOT been hired by the institution because of any skills we may posses or because of any work we may perform.   Rather, we were there to further our education.  (This was to get out of paying payroll tax on us.)  I found it hilarious to have a document attesting to my lack of skills.)

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