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Credit: Michael Gould-Wartofsky

A union contract for NYU’s graduate assistants

Unionized graduate student assistants at New York University (NYU) in New York City have reached agreement with the university administration on a contract that will, if ratified by the union membership of 1200, raise pay, improve health care coverage for the graduate assistants, help fund health insurance for assistants’ family members, provide tax-free funding for child care, and waive a variety of student fees. The two sides came to terms on 10 March, in advance of a planned strike by the graduate students. It’s a good outcome for NYU graduate student workers, but the implications are unclear for their counterparts at other private universities who wish to organize.

The two sides came to terms on 10 March, in advance of a planned strike by the graduate students.

The pact is historic in that it is the first for graduate student assistants at a private university in the United States since the 2004 decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in the Brown University case. That decision declared graduate student assistants at private universities ineligible for unionization because, the board ruled, they are primarily students rather than workers. The laws of the states cover graduate assistants at public universities; some states permit them to unionize without university permission.

The NYU agreement does not alter the Brown decision. In 2013, NYU decided on its own to permit its graduate student assistants to unionize, obviating the need for a planned case before the NLRB. So, until the NLRB changes its mind on its 2004 decree, graduate assistants can only organize unions at private universities that do not oppose them. As we reported in May 2014, however, some believe that a 2014 ruling by an NLRB regional board that student athletes are employees may strengthen the argument that graduate assistants are, too. Stay tuned.

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