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Labor Groups Launch Effort on Grad Student Unions

March 16, 2018

The American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, United Autoworkers and Unite Here announced a joint initiative this week to get private institutions to bargain collectively with graduate student workers on their campuses. The National Labor Relations Board decided in 2016 that graduate student teaching and research assistants at private institutions are employees entitled to collective bargaining rights. But a number of private campus administrations have since refused to bargain with graduate students who have held successful union elections. In recent weeks, a group of those unions have withdrawn their petitions pending review by the NLRB, to avoid an unfavorable decision by the Trump-era board. 

As part of the new joint effort, graduate student workers at Boston College, Columbia University, Loyola University of Chicago, the University of Chicago and Yale University delivered letters to their administrations saying, “Despite clear votes in favor of unionization at your university, you have attempted to silence graduate workers by using the Trump NLRB to rig the system against them. Your refusal to bargain with a democratically chosen union both ignores the value of RAs and TAs as workers and contradicts the fundamental values for which your university stands. We urge you to join other university administrations by changing course and respecting the voice of graduate workers.”

AFT president Randi Weingarten said during a news conference that the unions plan to pool resources and expertise gained through decades of organizing graduate students on public campuses, which are governed by state laws on collective bargaining. As one example of the kind of strategies the unions will use, Weingarten cited Georgetown University’s recent decision to negotiate terms of a graduate student union election outside NLRB channels. Graduate students on that campus have since said such an election might provide graduate students more protection than one overseen by the NLRB, since its results could not be later overturned by the board of political appointees.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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