The top universities in the country signed a legal appeal Monday in opposition to a federal case on graduate students forming their own unions.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell and a handful of other Ivy League universities all signed on to oppose the unionizing effort. They argued against an attempt by United Auto Workers to reverse a 2004 case involving Brown University that has prevented graduate students from forming unions. The universities warn a union for students would undermine private education.
“There is no compelling reason to reverse the Brown decision,” the legal brief argued. “Reversal or modification of Brown would significantly damage private sector graduate education in this country and will represent an inappropriate intrusion into long protected areas of academic freedom and autonomy.”
The universities note a decision in favor of the union would undermine the academic nature of how students and teachers interact. The relationship would instead be more akin to that of an employer and worker. The UAW says allowing graduate students to form their own union will be beneficial.
“We have experienced precarious funding, late paychecks, unmanageable rent increases, inadequate medical coverage for ourselves and our families, job and wage insecurity,” the union argued on its website. “A lack of transparency in administrative policies, and a lack of professionalism that stems from our labor not being recognized as work.”
Graduate students often perform a multitude of paid activities that could be considered work, like student teaching. They often get paid for these activities despite current law not technically considering much of it employment. The National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) is currently reviewing the case. Students classified as workers for the purposes of unionizing has been a highly debated topic in federal labor law. Students can join a union but since they’re not employees, they are not afforded the right to collectively bargain.
Brown has been the main case preventing students from forming unions with collective bargaining rights. Student athletes have also been a point of debate but the NLRB has also been hesitant to let them form unions too.
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