NYU and the UAW have reached an agreement to pave the way for an election among covered graduate students at NYU and NYU-Poly to determine whether the graduate students will be represented as a bargaining unit by the UAW. 

In a joint statement issued by NYU and the UAW, the parties stated they have agreed to bargain in good faith if the students vote for union representation and have agreed “on principles under which covered graduate students will make their choice on unionization without influence or campaigning by the University administration and without further delay.”  The statement indicates an election is expected to take place before the end of the semester.

As a result of this agreement, the current NYU/UAW case pending before the NLRB will be withdrawn.  That case had been viewed as the opportunity for the NLRB to reverse its 2004 Brown Universitydecision, in which it held that graduate student assistants are not statutory employees subject to the National Labor Relations Act.  That reversal will now have to wait for another day.

The joint statement issued by NYU and the UAW indicates that the “parties concur that the ‘academic management rights’ of the University to make academic decisions separate from the bargaining relationship will be honored by the Union, making clear that academic decisions are not subject to bargaining.”  The joint statement did not mention that this had been an issue between these parties during the brief period before the Brown decision when the UAW represented graduate students.  In a 2005 letter, NYU withdrew recognition of the union because of concerns the UAW had filed grievances that threatened to impede academic decision-making authority – such as “who should teach and how many years graduate students can take to complete their studies.”  This letter followed a recommendation from an NYU faculty advisory committee on academic priorities that was critical of union grievances over issues such as the staffing of the undergraduate curriculum; the appropriate measures of academic progress of students; the optimal design of support packages for graduate students; and the conditions and terms of fellowships.”

NYU and the UAW expressed hope for their opportunity to have effective bargaining at a private university.  In the meantime, the higher education community is back to square one on whether the Brown University decision will be reversed, with private universities possibly having to involuntarily recognize labor organizations seeking to represent graduate students.