The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently released two unpublished decisions that boosted unionization efforts by teaching and research assistants at private universities. The decisions, issued on March 13, 2015, could pave the way for the NLRB to overturn a 2004 decision where it rejected an effort by graduate teaching and research assistants to unionize at Brown University.

The most recent decisions reversed earlier dismissals of two petitions for representation, one at The New School and the other at Columbia University. The Board remanded the cases to the Regional Director for hearings and issuance of a decision. In a footnote, Board Members Philip A. Miscimarra and Harry I. Johnson III both noted that the petitions had been properly dismissed based upon existing law, reflected in Brown University. In Brown, the Board found that the graduate teaching and research assistants were primarily students and not university employees. In the two latest decisions, however, the Board did not conclude whether or not Brown should be overruled.

While the latest decisions did not overrule Brown, they did provide a vehicle for doing so. Further, they provide the graduate teaching assistants, represented at both schools by the United Auto Workers (UAW), with the opportunity to present their arguments for unionization at a hearing. Consequently, even though the decisions provided no reasoning, they are being viewed as victories for the UAW.

These decisions are yet another indication that the Board will soon overturn its decision in Brown. In addition, these decisions are representative of the ongoing efforts by unions to organize faculty and students in higher education. Colleges and universities facing these issues should begin to take steps now to assess them, especially in light of the recent NLRB decisions approving of the use of "micro-units" and the NLRB final rule on representation case procedures. The rule is set to take effect next month and will significantly limit the time that organizations will have to campaign against a faculty or graduate student unionization effort.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr's Higher Education and Labor and Employment Groups routinely advise educational institutions on union avoidance attempts. For more information, please contact David S. Fryman at 215.864.8105 or fryman@ballardspahr.com, Emilia McKee Vassallo at 215.864.8111 or vassalloe@ballardspahr.com, or the Ballard Spahr attorney with whom you work.


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