NLRB Classifies TAs as Employees

By Bill Wright

The NLRB chose not to interfere with collegiate football.  Northwestern University, Case 13-RC-121359 (August 17, 2015).  Collegiate teaching assistants, though, are another thing.  In Columbia University, Case 02-RC-143012 (August 23, 2016), the Board reversed another established precedent to assert that teaching assistants (“TAs”) are “statutory employees” and may choose to have union representation.  The Board majority’s reasoning, roughly, was that the NLRA covers any employee (except managers), unless there are good reasons to exclude them; and there is no empirical evidence to justify excluding TAs.  As the dissenting Board member pointed out, all those NLRB decisions we’ve been blogging about now apply in the college setting: TAs may use strong and abusive language about their supervisors in public media posts; college investigations (e.g. into sex harassment of students) might not be kept confidential; and colleges won’t be able to enforce vague civility rules like “collegiality.”  Many public universities already have state-authorized collective bargaining, but the liberal arts college experience might be forever altered.  Too bad we can’t gather empirical evidence from the future.