FAQ – Graduate Workers Are Under Attack

Just as graduate workers have won big improvements on the job, the Trump Labor Board has made us a target. Here are answers to your most commonly asked questions.

Q: How are graduate workers under attack? 

A: In 2016, graduate workers formally won the right to organize in unions. Since then, many universities have been trying to use tricky legal tactics to deny us this right, including claiming we’re not even workers. Now the majority-Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board has announced plans to change the rules and again deny our rights as employees.

Q: Who would this impact?

A: If the rule goes into effect, it would impact graduate workers – the master’s and PhD students who do much of the research, teaching and grading – at all private colleges and universities, as well as undergraduate workers who are paid for work in connection with their studies.

Q: What would the proposed rule change do?

A: The rule change would say that graduate workers are not legally considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act (our federal labor law) and therefore not able to claim the right that U.S. employees have to form a union, negotiate with their employers in collective bargaining or even be protected when joining with their co-workers in concerted activities about their working conditions.

Q: How would this impact those of us who already have a union?

A: When enacted, the rule change would jeopardize all previous gains. The college or university that employs you would now have the option to stop recognizing your union and strip you of the gains made in your contracts. They would no longer be obligated to negotiate in good faith with your union.

Q: What can we do about it? 

A: Hope is not lost! There’s plenty to be done. In addition to spreading the word, we can slow down and impact the process by flooding the National Labor Relations Board with as many public comments as possible. You can add your comment here. They are legally required to respond to each significant comment on a different topic, so the more we can submit, the better. We can also contact our legislators and demand they defend our rights.

Q: When will this happen?

A: The National Labor Relations Board released the proposed rule change on September 23, 2019. We have 60 days to submit comments, so the deadline for comments is November 22, 2019. The final rule will not go into effect until the Board has considered all the comments, which could be in 2020 or later.