Harvard University graduate students held a rally Thursday to urge the college administration to stay neutral on whether they should have the right to unionize.
Harvard is among several universities facing a growing movement of graduate students seeking union rights. The United Auto Workers (UAW) has been at the forefront of the unionizing drive, while college officials remain opposed to the idea.
“Harvard needs to understand this,” UAW Representative Ellen Wallace told the The Harvard Crimson. “This is a national movement, it’s not going away.”
The National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) is reviewing whether graduate students have the right to unionize. The UAW has urged them to reverse a 2004 case involving Brown University that has prevented graduate students from forming unions. Harvard opposes the idea but union supporters say the school should remain neutral on the matter.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell and a handful of other Ivy League universities in March banded together to issue a legal brief in opposition to the union challenge. They argued a graduate student union would undermine the relationship students have with their professors.
Nevertheless 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 it employment. 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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