The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Grad Students Appeal to U.N. for Union Rights

by Shreema Mehta

Mar. 1, 2007 – Unions representing graduate teaching assistants recently filed a complaint with a United Nations agency over a federal ruling that disqualified them from collective bargaining.

The AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers filed the complaint with the International Labor Organization, hoping to counter a 2004 decision by the US National Labor Relations Board that graduate students’ teaching and research activities are part of their educational experience, not a means of employment. That decision reversed an earlier finding by the Board that had granted New York University (NYU) graduate teaching assistants employee status and collective bargaining rights.

"Without the work of teaching and research assistants, America’s research universities could not function," said Elizabeth Bunn, Secretary-Treasurer of the United Auto Workers, in a press statement. "It’s absurd for the National Labor Relations Board to deny them the protections of labor law."

In their complaint to the United Nations, the unions argued that universities are increasingly dependent on graduate students as a cheaper alternative to full-time professors. The unions also said graduate students are treated as employees at NYU. They undergo training, follow orders, and in many cases, are precluded from seeking employment elsewhere.

NYU graduate student and organizer Susan Valentine said it was appropriate to file a complaint with the UN since many universities, including NYU, position themselves as global in scope. She said the complaint could lead to recommendations and an investigation into whether the Board’s decision conforms to international labor standards.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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