Date February 29, 2016
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Brown Joins in Filing NLRB Brief on Graduate Students

Brown and other universities argue in an amicus brief filed Feb. 29 that the National Labor Relations Board should preserve its prior ruling that precludes unionization by graduate assistants at private research universities.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University joined eight other prominent research universities Feb. 29 in filing a brief urging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to continue to recognize graduate assistants as students — not as employees.

The amicus brief argues that that there is no compelling reason to reverse the NLRB’s Brown decision,  a 2004 ruling that graduate students at Brown University were not employees and therefore could not unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. In deciding that case, the NLRB dismissed a petition by the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), which had sought recognition as the bargaining agent for certain graduate students at Brown.

“Not a single graduate student in any of the amici institutions has ever been required to join a union as a condition of receiving his or her education,” the schools argue in the brief, “nor have the academic or financial arrangements of any of the amici graduate programs ever been subject to collective bargaining. Amici believe that reversal or modification of Brown would significantly damage private sector graduate education in this country and will represent an inappropriate intrusion into long-protected areas of academic freedom and autonomy.”

Brown filed today’s brief jointly with Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University and Yale University.

The brief states that “there are no facts or changed circumstances that justify revisiting, reversing or modifying Brown.” The institutions argue that there is no evidence suggesting that the 2004 Brown case was wrongly decided, and  “there have been no changes in the law relating to the status of students — either Board or court decisions in the twelve years since the issuance of the Brown decision.”

The NLRB is currently considering two cases on the issue, and the amicus brief was filed on the second of the two, a case being considered by the NLRB in which the UAW seeks to unionize graduate students at Columbia University. The board’s rulings could affect the long-standing academic relationship between graduate students and the universities at which they enroll. While the NLRB does not consider graduate students at private universities to be employees now, rulings on the pending cases could reverse the decision established in Brown.

The brief is available to read in full here.