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NLRB Sides with Student Employees

The move will allow teaching assistants to join a union at private colleges and universities

Brian Young's picture
Mar 12, 2021

Since the 1970s rules surrounding the ability of teaching assistants to join a union have faced regular oscillation and in just the past two decades the NLRB has changed their position 3 times causing organizing drives to stop and start and keeping the legality of the unions in flux.

In September 2019, the Trump administration announced that they were publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would permanently bar teaching and research assistants at private colleges and universities who are compensated for their work, from joining a union. This would change their classification so that they were not considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act. At the time, the NLRB argued that a teaching or research assistants relationship with the school is “predominately educational rather than economic.”

However, with a new President in office, a more labor-friendly General Counsel at the NLRB, and Democrats poised to take over the board later this year, the NLRB has announced that they are withdrawing the proposed rule. This means that teaching and research assistants at private schools will be able to continue organizing a union without concern that their effort could be declared illegal part of the way through. It also means that schools, where their student employees have already formed a union, will still have bargaining rights.

This move is just the latest in a series of moves that Biden and his appointees have made to quickly roll back the changes that Trump made to hurt working people. According to Bloomberg, the decision by the NLRB to drop the rule banning student-workers from organizing may be the board attempting to triage Trump rules so that they can focus on getting something passed before Democrats take over the board in August with a presumably more pro-union, pro-worker pick.


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