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The NLRB Gets Ready to Pull the Trigger on Grad Student Union Rights

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As someone who spent almost eight years working in and for a graduate student union, this news fills me with an odd combination of glee and frustration:

The National Labor Relations Board will review a United Auto Workers petition to organize graduate students at The New School because the issue “raises substantial issues,” it said in an order on Wednesday…

Board chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, along with members Kent Hirozawa and Lauren McFerran, all Democrats, signed Wednesday’s order granting the review.

Member Philip Miscimarra, a Republican, dissented, arguing that the record “warrant[s] a decision not to grant review.”

A quick primer for the uninitiated: for the longest time, graduate students at private universities were denied the right to organize on the basis that they were students and not workers. This changed briefly when Clinton’s NLRB issued its NYU decision in 2000, which granted that right to graduate students in private universities. At the same time, many graduate students in public universities were taking advantage of state-level public sector collective bargaining statues to win recognition. Four years later, Bush’s NLRB issued its Brown decision, returning private sector labor law to the pre-2000 status quo.

Part of the reason why I described myself as feeling frustrated above is that it’s maddening that once again, a Democratic president’s NLRB is issuing this decision only when the clock ticks down on the administration. This didn’t have to be the case – there was an NLRB case once again involving NYU graduate students that got withdrawn when NYU’s management agreed to voluntary recognition in exchange for the union withdrawing its NLRB case in the hope of forestalling a legal precedent. And while I completely understand why workers and activists decided to take a contract now over maybe a contract later, it does mean that the rights of private sector graduate students are hanging by a thread.

And it’s yet another reason why it’s absolutely crucial for the Democratic Party to hold the White House in 2016, because no matter who wins the Republican nomination, we can predict with complete certainty that their NRLB appointees would absolutely vote to repeal the anticipated decision by Obama’s Board.

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