WASHINGTON -- Graduate teaching assistants at private universities do not have the right to form unions, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, reversing its landmark decision in 2000 that resulted in thousands of new union members.
The board, in a 3-to-2 decision along party lines, ruled that a unit of about 450 graduate teaching and research assistants at Brown University in Providence could not be represented by the United Auto Workers, because the members were students, not employees.
"Because they are first and foremost students, and their status as a graduate student assistant is contingent on their continued enrollment as students, we find that they are primarily students," the decision said.
Brown University did not issue a comment late yesterday. A UAW official in Washington said he was unaware that the decision had been made but added that the union strongly disagreed with the ruling. "We think it reflects this administration's antilabor orientation," said Alan Reuther, the union's legislative director.
In 2000, under the Clinton administration, the NLRB ruled that graduate teaching assistants at New York University could unionize. It was the first private school to do so. Graduate students at Tufts University, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania have since won the right to form unions, although their votes are on hold while the administrations of the three schools appealed to the NLRB.
The board this week said the NYU decision was wrong because it reversed more than 25 years of precedent.
"In our decision today, we return to the board's pre-NYU precedent that graduate student assistants are not statutory employees," the decision said, adding that this "longstanding approach changed abruptly" under the 2000 ruling.
The decision was sent to the involved parties Tuesday.
Unions have been active on college campuses to try to recharge the labor movement.
Union membership has been declining, and labor leaders view recruitment of younger, part-time workers as a way to reverse that trend. The UAW and the American Federation of Teachers are the leading unions courting graduate teaching assistants.
Some state-supported schools allow graduate teaching assistants to unionize and some do not, depending on various state laws.