As reported by my colleague Erik Peters last week, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has again reversed course and held that graduate students at private universities may unionize. See Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90 (2016).
Until 2000, the NLRB consistently held that graduate students working at the universities in which they were enrolled as students were not “employees” within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) and therefore could not unionize. The NLRB reversed its precedent in 2000 by holding that graduate students are employees under the NLRA. A change in Presidential Administration, and with it changes to the composition of the NLRB, resulted in the NLRB reverting to its prior precedent in 2004, i.e. graduate students are not employees. The NLRB, again altered by the change in Presidential Administration, has now again reversed course. While future changes to the composition of the NLRB may again bring about a ruling that graduate students are not employees, private universities should begin preparing for the consequences of this significant change.