In a case involving Columbia University, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled on August 23 in a 3-to-1 decision that graduate students employed by private colleges and universities are eligible to form collective-bargaining units under the National Labor Relations Act.
Advice for Governing Boards and Institutional Leaders:
- Unless your institution is directly affected by the decision, no immediate action is needed. However, you should discuss the strategic implications of the case. Be sure to inform the board’s thinking with information and advice from legal counsel, human resources leadership, and the chief financial officer.
- Request an update on the status of graduate student life on the campus. The update should include a review of this ruling and the existing relationships the institution has with its graduate students who receive compensation for services. Particular attention should be paid to the impact new policies could have upon career opportunities and overall student welfare, while balancing these concerns with institutional issues such as budgetary impact and campus human resources policy.
- If your institution is affected by the decision, discuss the strategic implications of the case, potential responses, and best practices from public universities that have experience with graduate student employee unions.
- Carefully review campus employee policies impacting graduate students to identify possible problem areas. Points of graduate student dissatisfaction that have arisen at other institutions may offer a good starting point for policy review.
- Foster open lines of communication with members of the campus community to gain stakeholder perspectives that can inform board decisions and institutional policies and practices going forward.
- Discuss how this ruling intersects with both new and existing federal regulations that impact human resources policy, such as those stemming from the Affordable Care Act (especially regarding part-time faculty healthcare) and the newly released Department of Labor overtime regulation (especially regarding postdoctoral scholar pay).