CHICAGO—Graduate Students United, the union for graduate workers at the University of Chicago, says the decision of the National Labor Relations Board to formally recognize private sector graduate students as workers under federal labor law will energize its organizing effort on campus.
The decision to reverse a controversial ruling of the George W. Bush-era board means graduate workers are now guaranteed a formal legal mechanism to establish a meaningful and enforceable say over their wages and working conditions.
GSU is jointly affiliated with the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. The AFT is the oldest national graduate employee union, representing 25,000 graduate workers on 22 campuses across nine states. The AFT submitted an amicus brief in the case before the board—Columbia University—that led to today’s reversal of the precedent established in the board’s 2004 Brown University case.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “This is a great day for workers. Graduate employees at private institutions, just like their peers in public universities across the country, deserve the right to organize to have a real say over their wages and conditions. The National Labor Relations Board took a hard look at the flawed reasoning in Brown and concluded, rightly, that grads should be afforded exactly the same workplace rights as their colleagues.
“The truth is graduate workers are the glue that holds higher education institutions together—without their labor, classes wouldn’t get taught, exams wouldn’t get graded and office hours wouldn’t be held. The evidence considered by the board clearly showed that far from being detrimental, collective representation enhances the professor-graduate employee relationship so important to academic success.
“At Columbia, Cornell, Chicago, Brown and hundreds of other campuses, graduate employees are standing up to have a real say over their work lives; this board decision recognizes and validates their fight to win a meaningful seat at the bargaining table and for the fruits of those negotiations to be protected by law.”
Abhishek Bhattacharyya, a University of Chicago doctoral student in South Asian languages and civilizations and anthropology, said: “Congratulations to our comrades at Columbia and the New School for taking the fight to the NLRB. This favorable verdict is a big shot in the arm for the union we have built over these last nine years at U of C, giving graduate students another powerful tool for improving our working lives. We remain committed to building a robust, inclusive and democratic union, working alongside teachers in the city, activists in Southside Chicago, and others looking to change the way things work.”