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NLRB Makes Graduate Students Employees

Completely reversing its own precedent, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that graduate teaching assistants are employees. These graduate students will have the right to organize and form unions.

The decision comes in response to a petition filed by graduate students at Columbia University and the United Autoworkers Union, a union seeking to represent the students. Columbia University is a private institution. Public university graduate students already had the right to be represented by unions. In 2004, the NLRB had held that students at private colleges were not considered employees for the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act. Now nullifying that ruling in 2016, the NLRB has expanded the definition of employees to include: “all student employees who provide instructional services, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants…All Graduate Research Assistants.. and All Departmental Research Assistants..” 

Columbia University has responded by expressing its disagreement with the ruling, asserting that the relationship between faculty and graduate students is very different than that of an employer and employee. Teaching and research assistants work with faculty to gain knowledge and expertise. The introduction of non-academic parties to the relationship will greatly impact the students’ learning according to the school. Columbia University has not yet publicly stated whether it will appeal the decision.