Nobody Wins if Graduate Students Can’t Organize

May 27, 2019

New York U. graduate-student workers and their allies protested for a fair contract in November 2014./ Michael Alexander Gould-Wartofsky

The National Labor Relations Board announced last week that it plans to propose a rule this fall that will establish whether graduate-student workers are covered by federal labor laws that grant union rights. Although the outcome remains far from certain, early predictions are that graduate-student workers will soon be stripped of bargaining rights. This development, part of a larger movement by the Trump administration to defeat labor unions once and for all, might be viewed by some college administrators as a victory. If it is, it’s a Pyrrhic one. To retain the moral authority of the university (and keep militant labor strikes off their campus), they should see the proposal for what it is and reject it.

Skepticism would be well founded, since the current presidential administration has worked to weaken — not strengthen — the position of higher education. From cuts in research funding to Draconian immigration restrictions that make it more difficult for colleges to recruit international students to the unprecedented step of levying taxes on university endowments, the federal government of the last few years has given administrators plenty to complain about. Do they sincerely believe that, in this instance, their pleas and objections for labor-board bureaucrats to respect the sanctity of the teaching relationship have hit home? That the representatives of management interests on the labor board have had a change of heart about the importance of a robust system of doctoral education and its benefits to society? ….

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