By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On August 24, 2016, the National Labor Relation’s Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate students who teach at private universities are employees with full rights to join unions. In a sweeping decision for Columbia University graduate students, the labor board’s decision paves the way for student unionization on campuses nationwide. The same rule may very well apply to medical residents and fellows.

Graduate Students Earn Union Protections.

In a 3-1 decision, the NLRB announced that a group of Columbia University students who sought to join a union deserved employee protections when they get paid for work completed by request from the school. Just like most medical residents and fellows, this is because they are employees.

For private colleges and universities, this decision could raise salary costs and prove disruptive to administrators who are unaccustomed to collective bargaining with graduate students.

Not All Are Happy With the Decision.

This decision could limit a school or programs’s ability to choose who teaches particular classes and when. It could also make the schools and programs subject to strikes by unionized graduate students.

The new decision also applies to undergraduate students who take on teaching duties.”In their broad-based decision, the NLRB swept aside decades of earlier history and basically said that any student who does either research or teaching in a private sector institution will be considered a school employee entitled to be represented by a union,” said Joseph Ambash, a Boston lawyer who helped write a brief filed by several prestigious universities arguing against the decision. So the decision may also apply to medical school students in paid positions.

Students or Employees?

The big question is whether graduate students are mostly students or employees, and whether the teaching and research they perform as an integral part of their education exempts them from employee status.

Administrators from the university argued that while the majority of graduate students receive financial support from their schools, they aren’t working in a trade for wages but are being educated to prepare for a career. Union groups however, say the students provide essential services for universities and should be considered employees if they act at least in the part.

The Service Employees International Union said that because of the ruling, students at several universities plan to immediate steps to try to join the union.

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Trottman, Melanie. “Graduate Students Win Fight to Unionize.” The Wall Street Journal. (August 24, 2016). Print

About the Author:
George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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