June 17, 2016

ELA Higher Education Counsel Columbia Brief Quoted on OnLabor


ELA Higher Education Counsel Columbia Brief Quoted on OnLabor

The Employment Law Alliance Higher Education Counsel’s (ELA-HEC; co-chaired by HK Partner Natasha J. Baker) amicus curiae brief in the pending National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) matter Graduate Workers of Columbia v. Trustees of Columbia University is quoted in the OnLabor article titled, “Teach Grad Students A Lesson: Uphold Brown and Preserve Academic Freedom.” (OnLabor is a blog maintained and edited by two Harvard University Law School professors.)

The commentary piece asserts that the NLRB would be wise to reject assertions made by Columbia University graduate students that the nature of their work arrangement with the university – providing teaching assistance in exchange for monetary compensation or stipends – constitutes “employment,” meaning that they have the option of choosing to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The graduate students pushing for such an employment classification are aligned with the United Auto Workers, which hopes to facilitate unionization and represent the students in collective bargaining.

The thesis, presented by the post’s author, law student Jonathan Gartner, is that allowing students to unionize would jeopardize academic freedom. In addition to citing the ELA’s amicus brief, he also mentions a brief submitted by nine private universities who argue that core issues such as class size and syllabus content could, in a unionized setting, become part of union negotiations, impinging on faculty and administration autonomy. He comments, “Not only would the introduction of collective bargaining disrupt the academic freedom of professors and universities, it would also negatively impact the university’s educational relationship with graduate students….Essentially, introducing collective bargaining to the university setting would force educators to negotiate academic decisions with unions and follow a rigid contract, rather than create individualized educational experiences for students.”

Gartner then goes on to quote the ELA-HEC’s brief which addresses potential loss of academic rights to management, “not only are such decisions inappropriate in the collective bargaining context, the very nature of such an adversarial, economic relationship could undermine the fundamentally academic nature of the relationship between faculty and their graduate students.”

To read the full article, please click here.

To read the Employment Law Alliance Higher Education Counsel amicus brief, please click here.