Can Graduate Students Unionize? The Government Cant Decide

Last semester, Paul Katz, a third-year Columbia doctoral student whos working toward a Ph.D. in 20 th century Latin American history, was assigned to help teach and grade an undergraduate course on ancient Greece. He hadnt studied Greek history since high school, and he took time away from his own dissertation work to prepare for the class. Its reasonable to view that as a work assignment that Id been given , not to pretend that we are talking about my growth as a intellectual and teacher, Katz says. Hes joined other Columbia graduate students in petitioning the federal government for the right to unionize as they seek higher pay and other concessions, including better health benefits, for the teaching and research they do while pursuing their degrees.

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to rule sometime the summer months. Katz and his co-workers have petitioned become members of the United Auto Workers. The AFL-CIO has also weighed in on their behalf. Theyre a service and receiving compensation, says AFL-CIO general counsel Craig Becker, who served on the NLRB during President Obamas first word. Its up to them to decide whether, even though theyre also students, they think they would benefit from collective bargaining.

Columbia, which opposes grad student unionization, has won subsistence from all seven members of its fellow Ivy League schools, along with Stanford and MIT. The schools joined together in February to file an amicus brief warning that collective bargaining would threaten faculty authority over educational decisions involving undergraduates as well as teaching deputies. This is viewed as a fundamental issue of academic freedom, tells attorney Joseph Ambash, who wrote the Ivies brief.

In its own filing, Columbia compared its alumnu assistants to student interns at Fox Searchlight Scene: A federal court last year ruled the interns dont have to be paid minimum wages if it can be determined that they benefit more than the company does from their period on the job. The benefits they receive far outweigh any advantage the University receives from student-performed teaching or research, Columbias attorneys wrote.[ T] he university exercises control for wholly pedagogical intents. Columbia declined to comment further.

Unionization among graduate students at public universities has been widespread for decades because those student employees are treated as government employees. In 2000 the NLRB, then dominated by President Clintons appointees, ruled in favor of letting graduate students unionize at New York University, the first such victory at a private institution. That precedent was overruled in 2004, under President George W. Bush, when the NLRB rejected a unionization push at Brown. Being a graduate deputy working toward a certain degree is not a relationship thats primarily economic. Its primarily academic, says former NLRB member Ronald Meisburg, who was part of the majority that voted in favor of blocking unionization at Brown.

After that decision, NYU ceased to recognize its graduate students union. Students filed a fresh unionization petition in 2010 to the NLRB, which signaled it might be open to undoing the Bush-era ruling and returning to the precedent defined under Clinton. In 2013, NYU allowed the UAW to establish a union that encompassed the majority of members of the students the UAW had asked to represent. We felt there was a middle ground, NYU Executive Vice President Bob Berne said at the time. We felt that both the union and the university learned from the first experience.

That helped fuel student unionization efforts at other prominent universities. The American Federation of Teachers is organizing at Cornell. The university announced on April 13 that its opened talks with student representatives about recognise a union. The university would completely fall apart without that labor force, says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornells School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Graduate deputies at Yale have announced their is supportive of the hospitality union Unite Here, which represents the schools clerical and service staff.

In addition to Columbia, the UAW is organizing at Manhattans New School and at Harvard, where it announced on April 28 that its won majority support from teaching and research deputies. I dont believe any powerful institution wants to concede power or voice to anybody, says Felix Owusu, a first-year Harvard doctoral student in public policy. The administration at Harvard, I guess its not surprising that theyre not an exception.

The bottom line : Unions are targeting the wealthiest universities in the U.S. to win higher pay and benefits for graduate students who teach .

Read more: www.bloomberg.com

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