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Distributed July 15, 2004
Contact Mark Nickel

Brown succeeds on appeal
NLRB decision says graduate students are not statutory employees

The National Labor Relations Board has upheld Brown University’s argument on appeal that graduate teaching assistants are students – not statutory employees – and are therefore not an appropriate unit for collective bargaining. The NLRB reversed a November 2001 decision by its regional director to order an election and dismissed the original petition filed by the United Auto Workers Union.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a decision dated July 13, 2004, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate teaching assistants, research assistants and proctors are students – not employees – and that imposing collective bargaining on graduate students would improperly intrude into the educational process. The NLRB dismissed a petition by the United Auto Workers Union, which had sought recognition as the bargaining agent for certain graduate students at Brown University.

In the summer of 2001, Brown argued before the NLRB regional director in Boston that teaching and research are an essential part of academic development and graduate training.

In November 2001, the regional director ordered that an election be held at Brown to decide whether graduate students would be represented by the United Auto Workers. That election was held in December 2001, but the NLRB impounded the ballots because Brown had appealed the regional director’s original decision. On Tuesday, the NLRB reversed the regional director’s order that an election be held at Brown.

In making its decision on Brown’s appeal, the NLRB overruled a decision that it made in 2000 involving the employment status of graduate students at New York University and expressly restored a 25-year precedent that treated teaching assistants as students, not employees.

Brown University Provost Robert J. Zimmer issued the following statement:

“The NLRB’s ruling is of enormous importance to graduate education in the United States. Teaching undergraduate students and conducting research are an integral part of the academic development for graduate students. The NLRB correctly recognizes that a graduate student’s experience is a mentoring relationship between faculty and students, and is not a matter appropriate for collective bargaining.”


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