Thursday, July 15, 2004

NLRB looks beyond the union label


Before hitting the sack tonight, I wanted to note, in passing, the NLRB's ruling that graduate students, at private universities, have no right to unionize under the 1935 Labor-Relations Act.

While I take this as good news, and certainly realize that this was the only position possible for the NLRB, I find myself somewhat disappointed in this outcome. I think I would have been far more satisfied had the votes been counted, and the UAW found itself roundly defeated at Tufts, Brown, and Columbia. But then, the law is the law, despite what “living constitution” and legal realist-types believe. Even if the UAW had found itself so crushingly defeated, their precedent would have allowed them to try again and again, as union activists have at Yale and the University of Minnesota.

So all in all, this is fabulous news. The NLRB ruled on the precise principle I argued all along - that graduate students are essentially students, not employees (in the sense the 1935 Act implies), and that their relationship with their university is primarily educational, not economic. (Can you name another job where the vast majority of work done is for one's own education, where far more time is spent learning than working for others, and where the term of "employment" is limited until one receives the degree they applied to receive in the first place? Where one applies to be accepted into a program, but doesn't submit a resume for a job interview?)

I've yet to hear anything back from Tufts by way of a reaction, either from anti-union people or the Unionistas themselves, but Columbia's proto-union has a website that has apparently been updated since December, and they already have a reaction up. They sound fit to be tied. And fortunately for me, they also have up a copy of the actual ruling (albeit only in PDF), which is quite nice indeed.

I wonder – was the 2000 decision, which was actually on the regional, not national, level – agreed upon across party affiliation? Watch me be wrong on this, but I think that by 2000, after eight years of Clinton appointees, they were able to be unanimous about a lot of issues because they were all Democrats by then.

Labor Board Says Graduate Students at Private Universities Have No Right to Unionize
New York Times - July 16, 2004

National Labor Board Strikes Blow for Academic Freedom by Disallowing the Forced Unionization of Grad Students: NLRB returns to long-standing precedent preserving First Amendment freedom of association of university teaching assistants
National Right to Work Press Release - July 15, 2004

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