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ERIC Number: ED587798
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2018-Jan-11
Pages: 14
Abstractor: ERIC
The State of Graduate Student Employee Unions: Momentum to Organize among Graduate Student Workers Is Growing Despite Opposition
Kroeger, Teresa; McNicholas, Celine; Wilpert, Marni von; Wolfe, Julia
Economic Policy Institute
The nation's oldest labor laws give employees the fundamental rights to organize and join a union. An increasing number of graduate student workers across the country are seeking to exercise these rights at the private universities where they work while they pursue their education. During the 2011-2012 school year, 12.1 percent of all graduate students and 57.9 percent of non-education Ph.D. students worked as graduate student assistants, a category that includes research assistants and teaching assistants. Over the last several decades, universities have increasingly shifted teaching duties away from tenured or tenure-track faculty and onto graduate students and adjunct or other non-tenure-track instructors. Likewise, graduate research assistants take on a large portion of the research work that earns these universities prestige and grant-based financial support. In the decade between Fall 2005 and Fall 2015, the number of graduate assistants employed by universities rose by 16.7 percent while tenured and tenure-track faculty increased by just 4.8 percent 2--less than overall employment growth of 5.9 percent over this same period. In this context, momentum is growing among graduate students to organize and join unions so that they can bargain collectively to negotiate for better wages and working conditions. In August 2016, a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board found that "student teaching assistants" and "student research assistants" are employees at private universities and therefore have the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. Since that ruling, graduate teaching and research assistants at some of the nation's most elite private institutions of higher learning--such as Columbia, Harvard, and Yale--have sought to be represented by a union. This report concludes that graduate students who work for private universities should have the same rights as other U.S. employees under our nation's labor law, including the right to bargain for better pay and working conditions. The 2016 Columbia decision, and the recent increase in organizing efforts among these students (despite opposition from their school administrations), are positive signs that the benefits of union membership may eventually be experienced more broadly among graduate student workers throughout the United States.
Economic Policy Institute. 1333 H Street NW Suite 300 East Tower, Washington, DC 20005. Tel: 202-775-8810; Fax: 202-775-0819; e-mail: Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Economic Policy Institute
Identifiers - Location: Illinois (Chicago); Connecticut (New Haven); Massachusetts (Cambridge); New York (New York)
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A