On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board will issue a ruling that will make it impossible for graduate student workers to unionize. This, as with almost everything the Trump NLRB has done, is bad.
The labor board is issuing a regulation “establishing that students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not ‘employees’” under the National Labor Relations Act. This will overturn an Obama-era ruling that affirmed that grad student workers could, in fact, unionize. We’ve known that this rule has been on the Republican target list for some time. (This board didn’t even bother waiting for a case to come before it to torpedo these workers’ rights, instead taking advantage of bureaucratic rulemaking procedures to do so.)
Grad student workers, who make up a significant chunk of the people who do the actual work of teaching undergrads, have been an incredibly active part of the labor movement in recent years, along with their fellow underpaid denizens of academia, adjunct professors. The SEIU, which has organized grad workers across the country, said today that “The graduate workers, with participants from Yale, Boston College, Duke, Emory, Tufts, Brandeis, University of Chicago, Loyola, Syracuse and more, say they plan to mobilize locally and at the national level and will take bold action to make sure the rule does not move forward.” The American Federation of Teachers, which is also organizing grad workers, vowed a “day of action” against the rule, saying “It would permit universities to profit from grads’ work on the one hand, while claiming they aren’t even workers on the other.”
They have a point—it will certainly come as news to all of the grad students teaching classes that they are not employees, of anyone.
You can add this to the list of anti-worker rulings handed down by the Trump NLRB, a list that will grow longer over the next year. You can also add it to the list of anti-worker NLRB rulings that will be prioritized for being overturned by the next Democratic NLRB. While it is true that there are vast and meaningful differences between the Democratic candidates for president, one thing that would be nice about any Democrat in the White House would be that we would get a break from the absurd situation we are now in, where the government agency charged with protecting workers’ right to organize dedicates itself completely to dismantling workers’ right to organize.
If grad students just keep on organizing without pause this rule should be reversed in time for thousands and thousands more of them to get a union vote.