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After Three Changed Positions and Nearly 20 Years, the National Labor Relations Board is Exempting Graduate/Teaching Student Assistants from the National Labor Relations Act

New Board, New Rule

On September 20, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board announced that it will establish a regulation exempting student graduate assistants, teaching assistants, research assistants, and other similar positions from the definition of an employee under the National Labor Relations Act. The proposed rule was posted in the Federal Register on September 23, 2019. This proposed rule [NM1] [BAM2] will overrule the Obama-era Board decision from 2016, which held that research and teaching assistants were employees under the NLRA and were allowed to unionize and collectively bargain. The NLRB has changed its position three times in the last twenty years on whether research and teaching assistants are classified as employees under the NLRA. However, as a result of the NRLB’s proposed rule, there will no longer be unrest on this subject, as the rule will permanently exclude teaching and research students from the scope of the NLRA.

What Does this Mean for Colleges and Universities?

Compensated students in teaching or research positions at private colleges and universities will not be able to form a union or collectively bargain with their college or university for wages, insurance, and other work-related terms or conditions. Although there has not been a vast amount of student-employee unions formed over the years, the clear elimination of student-employee collective bargaining may ease the minds of officials at private colleges and universities and allow their focus to remain on education, instead of on potentially having to bargain with their student-employees.

On the other hand, public colleges and universities who are subject to their state’s collective bargaining laws for their employees are not affected by this new rule promulgated by the NLRB.