Employment Law Alliance’s Higher Education Council Files Amicus Brief with NLRB in Graduate Workers of Columbia v. Trustees of Columbia University

Submitted by:
ELA Staff

Employment Law Alliance’s Higher Education Council Files Amicus Brief  with NLRB in Graduate Workers of Columbia v. Trustees of Columbia University

Potential for Unionizing Graduate Students at Private Universities at Issue

SAN FRANCISCO (March 7, 2016) – A trio of law firms, representing more than a dozen firm members of the Higher Education Council of the Employment Law Alliance (ELA), have filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. National Labor Relations board in the matter of Graduate Workers of Columbia – GWC, UAW v. The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York (Case No.: 02-RC-143012). Counsel of record for amici include: Peter Jones of Bond Schoeneck & King LLP; Natasha Baker of Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP; and Mark Mathison and Meghann Kantke of Gray Plant Mooty LLP – all members of the ELA’s Higher Education Council.

In Graduate Worker of Columbia, the NLRB has the power to deem graduate assistants at private universities statutory employees for the purpose of organizing and collective bargaining. In making this determination, the Board is reviewing whether to modify or overrule its 2004 Brown University decision, which concluded that graduate assistants should not be characterized as statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

The amici assert that the NLRB’s reasoning in Brown remains valid: collective bargaining under the NLRA (for the protection of the individual worker through the power of the group) is the antithesis of the type of individualized, educational decision-making that is necessary to mentor, guide and evaluate graduate students on their academic paths. The brief goes on to state, “Not only are such decisions inappropriate in the collective bargaining context, the very nature of such an adversarial, economic relationship could undermine the fundamentally academic nature of the relationship between faculty and their graduate students.”

“More than 1,800 private colleges and universities in the U.S. stand to have the educational and mentoring foundations of the graduate student experience compromised,” said Baker, one of the lead ELA brief authors and a partner with San Francisco’s Hirschfeld Kraemer. “When it comes to graduate students, we are talking about a fundamentally academic experience. Overturning 30 years of precedent, including Brown, would negatively impact the faculty/student dynamic, prioritizing economic concerns over education.”    

Since December 2014, when the Graduate Workers of Columbia filed a petition for the organization of a unit of student employees who serve as graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants and research assistants, the NLRB has twice rejected the election petition without hearings. In December 2015, at the request of the United Auto Workers, which seeks to represent the graduate students at Columbia and in a parallel cases at The New School in New York City, the NLRB granted review and requested briefs by February 29.  

The brief can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

The following Higher Education Council member firms joined the amicus brief:

  • Bond Schoeneck & King, PLLC (Syracuse, N.Y.)
  • Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew, P.C. (Burlington, Vt.)
  • Dinsmore & Shohl LLP (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Gray Plant Mooty LLP (Minneapolis, Minn.)
  • Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP (San Francisco, Calif.)
  • Ice Miller LLP (Indianapolis, Ind.)
  • Jackson Kelly PLLC (Charleston, W.V.)
  • Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP (Portland, Ore.)
  • Morgan Brown & Joy LLP (Boston, Mass.)
  • Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP (Charlotte, N.C.)
  • Reed Smith LLP (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
  • Shawe Rosenthal, LLP (Baltimore, Md.)
  • Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt P.C. (Saint Louis, Mo.)

About the Higher Education Council of the Employment Law Alliance:

The Higher Education Council of the Employment Law Alliance consists of firms and lawyers committed to serving institutions of higher education. Its attorneys provide national and worldwide support and advice on such issues as labor and employment, intellectual property, establishing out-of-state and overseas programs and campuses, regulatory compliance and immigration. The firms work together to ensure that client needs are met wherever, whenever.

About the Employment Law Alliance:

The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest network of labor, employment and immigration lawyers. With specialists in more than 135 countries, all 50 states and each Canadian province, the ELA provides multi-state and multi-national companies with seamless and cost-effective services worldwide

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