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Trump NLRB to Disallow Private School Graduate Unions

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I’ve wondered for some time whether Harvard and Brown’s relative acceptance of graduate student unionization campaigns wasn’t predicated on their confidence that the Trump NLRB would rule that graduate students aren’t workers, so why bother with the headache and bad publicity of fighting the union? I have no way of knowing this is true, but I would bet money on it. And the NLRB is following through on the standard Republican position of hurting workers.

Graduate teaching assistants and other student workers at private universities and colleges wouldn’t qualify for federal protections that grant most private-sector workers the right to form or join a union under a new regulatory proposal.

Students who receive compensation for teaching or conducting research “in connection with their studies” wouldn’t be considered employees, who have the right to unionize and are protected from various unfair labor practices, the National Labor Relations Board said in a press release Sept. 20.

The board has in recent years swung back and forth on whether students are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. Federal labor law protections were extended to college student-workers in 2000 and 2016 under Democrat-majority labor boards, while a Republican-majority board relinquished jurisdiction over those workers in 2004.

The current proposal—which the board is pursuing through the rulemaking process rather than in an individual case decision—is supported by three of President Donald Trump’s Republican appointees to the NLRB, with the lone Democratic board member dissenting. The Republican members have faced backlash through much of their terms for a string of rulings that critics say favor large corporations, and an ethical violation by member William Emanuel.

“The basis for this proposed rule is the Board’s preliminary position, subject to revision in light of public comment, that the relationship these students have with their school is predominately educational rather than economic,” the agency said in the release.

“In the past 19 years, the Board has changed its stance on this issue three times,” NLRB Chairman John Ring said in the release. “This rulemaking is intended to obtain maximum input on this issue from the public, and then to bring stability to this important area of federal labor law.”

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register Sept. 23, the board said. Public comment will be accepted for 60 days after that date.

The proposal is one of several policy updates that the Trump labor board has moved to enact through formal, notice-and-comment rulemaking. Ring has said the regulatory route allows the NLRB, which traditionally has interpreted federal labor law through case decisions, to cement those updates in a way that will be more difficult to undo in future administrations.

I don’t really know to what extent the claim that this will be harder for the next Democratic president and her NLRB to undo, but certainly this is what Republicans are trying across the board, another case of a democracy-hating party rigging the system to protect elites.

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