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NLRB Says Graduate Students Are Employees

Jon Allison

Jon Allison’s Monday Blog

Last week the National Labor Relations Board held that graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants at private universities are employees and have the right to engage in collective bargaining. The Board found that the student assistants were employees where they “perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated.” It further held that, even though they were students as well, “statutory coverage is permitted by virtue of an employment relationship” and “is not foreclosed by the existence of some other, additional relationship that the Act does not reach.” Seems simple enough, but it isn’t. In fact, the Board has reversed itself on this issue several times in the last 16 years. The current Board says that the prior ruling holding that teaching and research assistants were not employees lacks any convincing justification for the ruling and deprives an entire category of workers of the protections afforded to employees. In the prior decision the Board said teaching and research assistants could not be employees because their primary relationship with the university was an educational one rather than an economic one.

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