JACKSONVILLE, FL – September 23, 2016 – The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board” or “NLRB”), on August 28, 2016, overturned its 2004 Brown University decision in which it had ruled that teaching and research graduate students at private universities did not have the right to engage in collective bargaining on the basis that the schools had an educational and not an economic relationship with their graduate students.
Teaching and research assistants at Columbia filed a petition seeking to become part of the United Auto Workers Union. The Board in a three (3) to one (1) decision reversed its Brown decision and decided that graduate students who work for the university as teaching and research assistants are entitled to collective bargaining as employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”). According to the Board, the fact that a research or training assistant’s work might advance his own educational interests as well as the university’s interests is not a barrier to ruling that he is a statutory employee under the NLRA. It is anticipated that teaching or research graduate students at a significant number of private institutions will petition for elections in coming months seeking the right to collectively bargain with the universities. Private universities need to prepare for these union elections by deciding whether to oppose union organization or whether to be “neutral” regarding whether its graduate teaching/research assistants will decide whether to be represented by a union in an election conducted by the Board.