Higher Ed

Ruling on union under review

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 3, 2011

New York University graduate students continue to wait for word from the Washington, D.C. office of the National Labor Relations Board. The board’s New York office told graduate students in June they could not form a union, but the language of that ruling left room for the decision to be overturned at the federal level.

Though the June decision was based on the precedent of a 2004 NLRB ruling that Brown graduate students were not employees of the University and could not unionize, the judge reinterpreted that precedent, declaring that teaching and research assistants are employees.

Elbert Tellem, acting representative of the NLRB’s regional office in New York, wrote in the case report that the 2004 decision was “premised on a university setting as it existed 30 years ago” and that graduate students at NYU have a “dual relationship” with the university that is both academic and economic.

“The problem is that the national board hasn’t looked at our case,” said Daniel Aldana Cohen, a doctoral student at NYU and an organizer for the Graduate Student Organizing Committee. “We’re hoping to get a decision by December.”

NYU graduate students are hopeful they will receive a positive ruling as “relatively pro-labor” Democrats appointed by President Obama currently dominate the five-seat NLRB committee, Cohen said. But he said students are worried that the NLRB won’t get to the case before the appointees’ terms expire at the end of the year.

If they receive a positive ruling, the graduate students will then hold elections for a bargaining committee that will negotiate with NYU.

So far, the administration has been unhelpful, Cohen said. They are”taking advantage of the gridlock in Washington,” he said. “Their entire strategy this whole time has been delay, delay, delay.”

“We fundamentally disagree with (the) analysis and conclusion that a graduate-student bargaining unit would be appropriate in the event that the Brown case is reversed,” said John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at NYU, in a statement in June. “The regional director’s analysis ignores the facts of this case, most importantly that teaching assistantships have been eliminated for NYU graduate students and that those who choose to teach do so as adjunct faculty.” Adjunct faculty at NYU already have a union with the United Auto Workers.

At Brown, the motivation to unionize may not be as strong as it was in 2004.    

“At the moment, the Brown community is not moving toward a direction to unionize,” said Matteo Riondato GS, president of the Graduate Student Council. “I believe we have a very good relationship with the graduate school and the administration.”

He added that the council is open to discussion on the issue and that if a need for a union arises, it “will act accordingly to what the majority of the students and the representatives of students in the GSC will vote for.”

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