The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) passed down a landmark ruling on Tuesday that will allow graduate students to unionize.
The NLRB made the decision on a 3-to-1 count, which reversed a ruling set in 2004 involving Brown University. The three members of the NLRB who voted for the new policy said the old precedent “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections” of the National Labor Relations Act “without a convincing justification.”
Many prestigious universities, including Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford have objected to the NLRB’s ruling. They argue that the relationship that students have with academic departments is not like the one employees have with employers.
Columbia announced last month that it would increase the stipend for graduate students of $26,286 by 17 percent over the next four years. Many believe that this was done in order to try to silence critics.
Beyond pay, universities fear that students may want to change other standard parts of academia, including the length of classes, the amount of grading done, or what’s made part of the curriculum. It is believed that changes in these areas could lead to lengthy and costly negotiations.
Many universities also warn that the broadening of who is considered an employee could extend to undergraduate students, such as those in work-study programs. University officials say that this could curtail opportunities for everyone.
While universities argue that students should focus upon their studies, students argue that they should be able to be considered employees.
Unions, ultimately, are clearly happy with the NLRB’s ruling.