NAICU Washington Update

T.A. Collective Bargaining Back on the Front Burner

New legislation would specify that graduate teaching and research assistants at private colleges and universities are employees under the terms of the National Labor Relations Act. The "Teaching and Research Assistant College Bargaining Rights Act" was introduced on April 17 in the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over federal labor laws - in the House as H.R. 5838 by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and in the Senate as S. 2891 by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The legislation would effectively overturn the 2004 ruling of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case involving Brown University. In that case, the NLRB found that graduate teaching and research assistants are students, not employees. Graduate student employment issues at public institutions are subject to state labor laws - so both the NLRB decision and the pending legislation affect only private institutions. (See WIR, 7/27/04).

The 2004 ruling itself overturned an earlier board ruling that graduate student at New York University could unionize. That 2000 NYU ruling had overturned precedent dating to 1974 - so the Brown decision brought the issue full circle. NAICU joined the American Council on Education in filing a brief on behalf of Brown, and continues to believe that the work of graduate assistants is a fundamental aspect of their role as students, not as employees.

This issue is likely to become a highly-charged political battle in this election year. In a letter soliciting House members' support for the legislation, Miller referred to the Brown decision as having been made by the "Bush Board." Kennedy also referenced the Brown decision in introducing the bill, noting that "it is hardly the only bad decision by the National Labor Relations Board under the Bush administration, which has been the most anti-worker, anti-labor, anti-union NLRB in history."

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