Update: Union Organizing Efforts by NYU’s Graduate Students

By:  Euphemia “Phemie” Thomopolus
Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP
San Francisco, CA

As promised in our earlier post, we are keeping an eye on the NYU graduate student issue currently before the National Labor Relations Board.

On October 4, NYU offered a concession in its long-standing battle against graduate student unionization.  The university stated that it will not block an election to organize a teaching assistants union and agreed to negotiate with the union if one was created.  Graduate students’ reactions to NYU’s announcement were tepid at best.  The reason for their lackluster response is that NYU also reiterated that it will not accept unionization of its research assistants.  NYU stated that the reason it refuses to accept a research assistants union is because research assistants’ responsibilities are directly tied to their research and the pursuit of their degrees, making the relationship between research assistants and the university a purely academic one.

As a reminder, the NLRB has already addressed this issue.  In Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004), the Board held that graduate student assistants are students with a predominantly academic relationship with their schools rather than employees, and therefore do not have the right to compel their employers to enter into collective bargaining.  Before the Brown decision, NYU was the only private university to negotiate a contract with a graduate student union, the Graduate Students Organizing Committee.  In the post-Brown era, things changed rapidly.  NYU refused to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the GSOC and its graduate students and researchers petitioned the Board for an election to vote on union representation.

The Board invited comments on the issue last year.  Numerous educational organizations submitted amicus briefs urging the Board to uphold Brown, including our Higher Education Council of the Employment Law Alliance.  Click here to review the Higher Education Council’s amicus brief.

Given the response to NYU’s latest offer, it appears this issue will not be resolved at the negotiating table.  Stay tuned.

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