BIG NEWS! NLRB Rules That Grad Students Are Employees

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) is very heartened by the decision of the National Labor Relations Board to formally recognize private sector graduate students as employees under federal labor law. The TCWC looks forward to working with Cornell graduate students as they seek union representation.

Cornell Graduate Students United, the union for graduate workers at Cornell University, have been an incredibly active force for organizing students at Cornell, and supportive of larger efforts for workers organizing throughout Tompkins County and the region.

[From American Federation of Teachers press release]: The decision in Columbia University to reverse a controversial ruling of the George W. Bush-era board will add momentum to the large-scale graduate organizing effort at Cornell’s Ithaca and Geneva, N.Y., campuses and will help build on CGSU’s positive and productive relationship with the Cornell administration.

Ibrahim Issa, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at Cornell, said “I congratulate the graduate workers at Columbia University, and I believe that this decision will help improve grad workers’ lives. The ability to unionize will help tighten our graduate community and create a common platform where we can work to defend our rights.”

Maria Sapar, a Cornell doctoral student in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, said “I’m excited about this decision because I want a union here at Cornell. I want all graduate workers to be guaranteed a positive experience, and I’m confident that the graduate worker union is the best path to get us there.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “This is a great day for workers. Graduate employees at private institutions, just like their peers in public universities across the country, deserve the right to organize to have a real say over their wages and conditions. The National Labor Relations Board took a hard look at the flawed reasoning in Brown and concluded, rightly, that grads should be afforded exactly the same workplace rights as their colleagues.

The NLRB decision also triggers the election provisions in CGSU’s historic pre-election code of conduct agreement with Cornell, signed in May, which set out a path toward a campus-wide union election and a first contract for around 2,500 graduate employees. A pioneering joint Union-Management Committee, comprising CGSU members, union staff and representatives of the administration, has already held several meetings to ensure that the union-university relationship remains respectful and that the right to choose union representation is protected.

CGSU is affiliated with the New York State United Teachers and, nationally, with the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers. The AFT is the oldest national graduate employee union, representing 25,000 graduate workers on 22 campuses across nine states. The AFT submitted an amicus brief in the case before the board—Columbia University—that led to today’s reversal of the precedent established in the board’s 2004 Brown University case.