The American Association of University Professors filed an amicus brief Feb. 29 arguing the board, which has authority over private employees, should overturn its 2004 Brown University decision.
The Brown University case labeled graduate assistants as university students rather than employees because their stipends were not compensation but financial aid.
“If somebody is an employee who is doing work for compensation, then that kind of worker’s compensation puts them in a category of being an employee under (the National Labor Relations Act),” said Risa Lieberwitz, general counsel for the AAUP.
“Just like other workplaces, (employees) should be able to choose whether to associate with their fellow workers in a way that is forming a union.”
According to the brief, graduate assistants engage in research from externally funded grants and perform services for the university in exchange for payment.
Lieberwitz said the AAUP wants the National Labor Relations Board to revert back to a previous decision it made about a New York University case.
“We think the NYU case is the better reasoned position and the more correct interpretation of what it means to be an employee under the National Labor Relations Act as a graduate assistant,” she said.
Jeffrey Hirsch, law professor and associate dean for academic affairs at UNC, is also an advocate for labor rights for graduate students.