Press Releases | Unions and Labor Standards

News from EPI President Trump’s NLRB seeks to eliminate the right to a union for graduate student workers

As Harvard University graduate student workers strike for better wages and working conditions, a new EPI report analyzes the impact of the Trump National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposed rule that would rob graduate student workers at private universities of the rights to organize and collectively bargain.

If enacted, the rule would take away the collective bargaining rights of 57,500 unionized graduate assistants. Additionally, more than 1.5 million graduate students at private universities would stand to lose the right to form a union under the proposed rule, according to the report.

Since 2016, graduate students have mobilized to form unions in over a dozen private institutions, including at Harvard University, Georgetown University, and the University of Chicago.

“At a time when graduate student workers are demanding a union and collective bargaining, the Trump NLRB is advancing a proposal to rob them of these rights,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI Director of Government Affairs and co-author of the report. “The proposed rule is just another example of the Trump NLRB putting corporate interests ahead of the rights of workers.”

The authors explain that graduate assistants made up nearly as large of a share of the academic workforce (21.0%) as tenured and tenure-track instructional faculty (24.4%) in fall 2017, but they received dramatically lower compensation. The average graduate student assistant was paid just $13,969 during the 2015–16 academic year, compared with $121,764 for professors.

“Universities rely on graduate assistants more than ever to teach classes, grade papers, and conduct critical research, but they fail to pay these student workers a living wage,” said Margaret Poydock, EPI Policy Associate and co-author of the report. “The Trump NLRB’s rule demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the modern academic workforce and robs graduate student workers of the right to collectively bargain for better wages, working conditions, and benefits.”

The Trump NLRB is accepting public comments on the rule until January 15, 2020. Members of the public are invited to comment on the Trump NLRB’s proposal.

The proposed rule is part of a troubling pattern of the Trump NLRB undermining workers’ rights. A recent EPI report uncovered the numerous ways the Trump board has weakened worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act, and just last week, the board issued a rule that will add unnecessary delay to the union election process. The report is authored by McNicholas, Poydock, and EPI State Economic Analyst Julia Wolfe.