Distributed December 14, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Election results pending

Brown appeals NLRB decision on graduate students/UAW election

Brown University is seeking a reconsideration of a Nov. 16 decision by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board which directed that certain graduate students could vote for or against representation by the United Auto Workers union. The election was held Dec. 6-7, but the ballots have been impounded and will not be counted until the appeal process concludes.

PROVIDENCE —President Ruth J. Simmons announced today (Friday, Dec. 14, 2001) that Brown University has filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington. The filing requests reconsideration of a decision by the NLRB regional director which allowed certain graduate students to vote for or against representation by the United Auto Workers. Today is the deadline for the University to file its appeal.

In that Nov. 16 decision, the NLRB regional director directed that only 510 of more than 1,300 graduate students at Brown were eligible to vote in the election, which took place Thursday and Friday, Dec. 6-7. Ballots from that election were impounded by the NLRB pending Brown’s decision and will not be counted until after the appeal process is completed. Turnout was high, with approximately 460 eligible voters – about 90 percent– participating.

“Our preeminent concern in this matter has been to choose the course of action that best supports the excellent quality of graduate education at Brown,” said Simmons. “I was pleased with the high turnout among eligible voters and with the quality of graduate student discussions preceding the election. I believe, however, that the NLRB’s decision did not adequately address Brown’s situation. We owe it to ourselves and to similar universities to seek reconsideration.”

In its appellate brief, the University said that the case “is of great national significance” and that the outcome “will profoundly affect the future of private sector graduate school education in the United States.” The University raised a number of arguments in its appeal, including:

  • Most academic departments at Brown include teaching experience among requirements for a graduate degree. The NLRB must clarify that graduate students who teach as part of their academic curriculum cannot be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act. (The full NLRB has never directly decided that question.)

  • The decision by the regional director drew an arbitrary line between research assistants in the humanities and in the sciences. Only research assistants in the humanities were allowed to vote. Brown asserts that there is no factual basis for making such a distinction among graduate research assistants.

  • Brown’s graduate program differs significantly from that of New York University; the regional director’s decision relied on an NLRB decision that did not address those different aspects of Brown’s graduate program. (The NYU decision, issued in October 2000, held that graduate assistants are employees and are eligible to seek representation by a union.)

  • The regional director misapplied official NLRB precedent regarding temporary employees. In almost all cases, teaching assistants at Brown are appointed one semester at a time.

  • There are compelling reasons that a full five-member NLRB should reconsider the NYU decision, upon which the regional director relied so heavily. The NYU case was decided by only three NLRB members, two of whom rendered the opinion with the concurrence of a third. That three-member decision reversed 25 years of NLRB precedent.

“Brown submits that the Board’s analysis in NYU fails to take into account the realities of the higher education environment,” the University said in its petition, “thereby jeopardizing the essential elements of academic freedom and institutional independence which lie at the heart of American higher education.”

The United Auto Workers will have one week to provide the NLRB with its response to the University’s request for reconsideration. If the NLRB grants Brown’s request, both sides will have an opportunity to file additional briefs of legal issues raised by the case.