NLRB (Finally) Rules: We are Workers!

Today, in a historic decision the National Labor Relations Board ruled that “student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act.” What does this mean? This decision recognizes that as graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities we are legally entitled to collective bargaining rights. Does this mean that we are automatically on the road to an union contract? No, unionizing is still our choice to make democratically and actively, and it’s one the administration will probably continue to discourage (despite claiming to be “neither for or against”). But this does mean that as of today we enjoy the same collective bargaining rights as other employees covered by U.S. labor law, and that’s huge!

GSU issues a big congratulations to our comrades at Columbia University and the New School for taking their fight for recognition to the NLRB!

While we celebrate wholeheartedly the NLRB decision we also note that it only affirms, and gives legal status to what GSU and its counterparts at private universities have known and acted on for years: academic work is work and #WeAreWorkers. The NLRB has made the right decision in recognizing graduate students at private universities as employees, giving them legal collective bargaining rights. This is a big step forward, not just for graduate students and academic labor, but for the labor movement as a whole.

What Does This Mean Moving Forward?

This favorable NLRB decision gives us as graduate student-employees at UoC legal backing to exercise our right to unionize. We are in our full legal right to mobilize graduate student workers on campus toward building a strong democratic union that can collectively bargain to improve and more fully control our working lives.

While GSU will continue to do the work it has been doing for the past 9 years we will now be able to begin to take the necessary steps to conduct a campus-wide campaign which will allow graduate-employees at the UoC to exercise their right to collectively bargain by casting their votes for or against unionization. The process of building a card campaign has three basic steps: getting our fellow workers to sign union cards, filing for a union election with the NLRB, and voting in the election.

The next few months will be crucial as we move forward and prepare to exercise our right to organize and collectively bargain. Now is the time to get involved and there are plenty of ways to do so! Email us, ask your Departmental Organizer how you can get involved, or consider becoming a Departmental Organizer yourself! And, please be sure to vote in the upcoming referendum on our affiliation – this vote will determine which national union, if any, GSU will work with in a potential card campaign!

If you would like to become a member, please do so here.


Video: Watch GSU Members Deliver the #gradlaborcounts Petition to the NLRB

On December 13, members of Graduate Students United delivered the #gradlaborcounts petition to the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The delivery was preceded by a piece of street theater, in which grad student workers implored the NLRB to wake up out of its coma so that it can perform its duties of ruling on cases such that filed by grad students at New York University.

You can also see photos of the action here (link).

Remember, it’s not too late to sign the petition! The #gradlaborcounts site will be open for more signitures until the end of the year, when the NLRB will lose its quorum with board member Craig Becker’s term ending. Visit read more about the NYU case before the NLRB and to sign the petition.

Students Rally to Rouse NLRB From Near-Fatal Coma

Hey team, today’s the day we visit the NLRB at its office in Chicago and call on it to wake up and do its job for us and for every worker in America today. Here’s our press release — check back later in the day for photos and video from the event!

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Chicago, IL, December 13, 2011 — Today at noon, Chicago-area graduate students and their supporters will demonstrate outside the Chicago branch office of the National Labor Relations Board (209 S. LaSalle St.) and present a petition calling on the NLRB to wake from its coma of inaction and recognize private university graduate student teaching and research assistants as employees with a legal right to unionize and collectively bargain.

The rally, organized by Graduate Students United, the graduate employee union at the University of Chicago, and the national Grad Labor Counts! campaign, will feature a dramatic skit in which the NLRB is presented as a comatose hospital patient to reflect its record of inaction and danger of imminent demise. The Grad Labor Counts! campaign has been endorsed by the 1.4 million-strong American Federation of Teachers and the 70,000-member American Association of University Professors.

“We’re calling for for urgent medical attention to the ailing patient from President Obama and Congress, who have the power to restore the NLRB by appointing a new member in 2012,” explained Dasha Polzik, a member of Graduate Students United and an organizer of the Grad Labor Counts! campaign

“We’re also calling on the NLRB to wake from its coma and issue a ruling on a case that has sat before it since April 2010 concerning the employee status of graduate students at private universities,” added Greg Goodman, another GSU member. Graduate student teaching and research assistants were first recognized as employees by a unanimous NLRB ruling in 2000, and then stripped of their employee status by a later Bush-era ruling in 2004

Representatives from Grad Labor Counts! will deliver a petition with over 2,700 signatures from across the country calling on the NLRB to rule on the case and recognize graduate student teaching and research assistants at private universities as employees. Details on the Grad Labor Counts! campaign and petition are available at

Graduate Students United (AFT-AAUP) at the University of Chicago
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AFT and AAUP Announce their Support for #gradlaborcounts

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten announced a statement of support for GSU’s #gradlaborcounts campaign and petition today. Weingarten notes that “Graduate employees at private universities should have the same right as their counterparts at public universities to have a voice in their workplace through collective bargaining.”

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also recently announced their support for #gradlaborcounts. Referring to the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling in the Brown decision that took away the rights of  private university graduate students to collectively bargain, the AAUP release stated, “It is increasingly clear that graduate student employees deserve the right to unionize. The Obama administration and the remaining members of the NLRB must have the courage to right the 2004 ruling.”

Read AFT President Weingarten’s support here (link).

Read the statement by the AAUP here (link) 

It’s not too late to sign the petition. Visit and distribute widely!

Petition: Grad Labor Counts!

GSU is launching a major campaign for the right to unionize as students at private universities. We kicked off on Monday, November 21st with a petition calling on the National Labor Relations Board to rule on a crucial case at NYU, which will determine whether graduate students at private universities have the right to organize and bargain collectively, as many public university employees currently do.

We ask fellow students, workers and allies to support our campaign and add their voice. Please sign the petition and forward widely!