Here’s an angle we had not come across before, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, “Obama Recess Appointments Could Help Grad Unions“:
President Obama on Saturday announced that he was making recess appointments of 15 of his nominees whose confirmations have been blocked by Senate Republicans’ refusal to allow votes on them — and two appointees in particular could lead to a major change for higher education. Those appointees — Craig Becker and Mark Pearce — will restore a quorum to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB has lacked a quorum throughout the Obama administration, leading to legal challenges to its right to decide cases. One of the major goals for academic labor for the Obama administration was to see a reversal of the 2004 NLRB decision that effectively shut down the unionization of graduate student teaching assistants at private universities. But labor groups have hesitated to bring a challenge to the ruling while the NLRB lacked a quorum. The leaders of private universities generally oppose unionization of graduate students.
Historical context follows.
Inside Higher Ed, January 28, 2009, “Return of Grad Union Movement“:
Unions worked hard for President Obama in November — and those in academic unions have had high hopes that his actions would revive the movement to organize graduate teaching assistants at private universities.
In his first move related to the National Labor Relations Board, Obama has cheered those unions by designating as chair Wilma B. Liebman, who is on record as backing collective bargaining rights for private universities’ graduate teaching assistants. Liebman was originally appointed to the NLRB by President Clinton, and she was one of two members who wrote a strong dissent to the 2004 decision that effectively shut down union organizing at private institutions. While she has the same vote as chair as do other members, the signs suggest that her views won’t be in the minority.
New York Times, July 16, 2004, “Labor Board Says Graduate Students at Private Universities have No Right to Unionize“:
The fast-growing movement to unionize graduate students at the nation’s private universities suffered a crushing setback yesterday when the National Labor Relations Board reversed itself and ruled that students who worked as research and teaching assistants did not have the right to unionize.
In a case involving Brown University, the labor board ruled 3 to 2 that graduate teaching and research assistants were essentially students, not workers, and thus should not have the right to unionize to negotiate over wages, benefits and other conditions of employment.
On Tuesday, when President Obama signs the reconciliation bill — with its nationalization of the student loan program — there will no doubt be claims that a college education will get cheaper. But thanks to the recess appointments to the NLRB, sometime in the next couple of years expect to see a university issue a news release, “Graduate tuitions raised to deal with higher costs, wage demands.”
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