UPDATE: Sept. 20, 2019: The National Labor Relations Board on Friday proposed a new rule that would take away the right to unionize from graduate teaching and research assistants at private colleges.
The proposed rule, which is slated to be published next week, determines that students who are working for their institutions in "connection with their studies," such as teaching and research, are not employees.
If implemented, the regulations would reverse a 2016 ruling that gave graduate assistants at private universities collective bargaining rights. However, private colleges will still be able to recognize student unions if they wish, and some states may give graduate assistants additional rights, the Associated Press reported.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced in May its plans to set a "standard" for determining whether student workers at private colleges and universities are employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.
The proposed rules would make it more difficult for student workers to unionize — a position an Obama-appointed board supported in 2016 in a case involving Columbia University. It was the latest in a series of alternating, politically-driven positions on the issue.
Unions had been reluctant to bring a case to the NLRB under the Trump administration, fearing it would reverse the Columbia ruling. However, the unusual step of issuing a rule breaksthe trend of adjudicating the issue.
Tensions between student workers at private institutions and their administrations have risen amid debate over the former group's right to unionize. Citing several strikes or near-strikes in the Chicago metro area involving students and faculty, the Chicago Tribune highlights concerns over pay and job security stemming from institutions' growing use of nontenured instructors.
The publication listed strikes beyond the Midwest city, including in Pennsylvania, California and Ohio. Student workers argue that their tasks on campus, which include research, instruction and other work, outweigh that of typical students and are critical to the institution, Newsweek reports, but many administrators say that workload is part of the deal.
Colleges looking to break up existing or prevent the formation of unions on their campuses have found a friend in the current NLRB.
That concern led student workers at Grinnell College, in Iowa, to abandon an effort to ask the NLRB for permission to expand their union to include all student employees, according to local media reports. They were fearful that the board under Trump would side with the college and therefore set a new precedent for student workers on other campuses who are looking to unionize.
However, some institutions have voluntarily recognized graduate student unions, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, including Brown, Georgetown, Montana State and New York Universities as well as the University of Connecticut.