Recently, graduate students at New York University who serve as teaching assistants filed a petition with the NLRB seeking a union representation election. Click here for the New York Times story. The Graduate Student Organizing Committee, part of the United Auto Workers Local 2110, submitted union authorization cards reportedly signed by more than half of the estimated 1600 graduate assistants at NYU.
The NLRB’s response will be interesting to watch. In 2004, the NLRB ruled that graduate assistants were not employees and therefore did not have any rights under federal labor law. However, Wilma Leibman, who is now the Chairman of the NLRB, and former Member Walsh dissented from that conclusion. The dissenting opinion described the majority as "woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality."
So, unless another case gets to the NLRB first on this question, the NYU graduate assistants’ petition could well provide a test of whether the NLRB will reverse the 2004 ruling. Given the NLRB’s procedures, however, don’t look for such a ruling any time soon. It could be a couple of years before the case makes its way to such a decision point.