Columbia University graduate students who work as research and teaching assistants can form a union, the U.S. labor board ruled on Tuesday, opening the gates for graduate student organizing on private campuses all over the country.
On a 3-1 vote, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said that graduate students are employees who get organizing rights under federal labor law.
The NLRB’s decision allows Columbia University research and teaching assistants to vote on whether they want to join a United Auto Workers affiliate.
The decision only applies to private colleges. Organizing rights for graduate students at public colleges depend on each state’s labor laws. Graduate students have formed unions in more than a dozen states.
With Tuesday’s decision, the NLRB overturned its own ruling from 2004 that had barred graduate student unionization. It is the second time the NLRB has said graduate students can unionize.
The NLRB first found that graduate students at New York University could form a union in 2000, when the board was controlled by Democratic members.
Partisan control of the board flipped after the 2000 election of Republican President George W. Bush, clearing the way for the 2004 decision that graduate students could not unionize.
The NLRB has been controlled by Democratic members since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.
(Reporting by Robert Iafolla; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Alistair Bell)