Adapting to a New World: The Impact of the NLRB’s Columbia University Student Assistant Decision

  March 19, 2019   |  

In a game-changing decision reversing established precedent, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled by a 3-1 margin that university students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are “statutory employees” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and can organize to form unions (Columbia University). The ruling applies to both graduate and undergraduate students who perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated.

The practical impact of this decision will have a profound impact on higher education.  Because there is no case law identifying bargaining subjects for student assistants, litigation will undoubtedly go on for years, causing uncertainty and instability in many potential collective bargaining relationships. Will the scope of bargaining impact such fundamental issues as curricular requirements? The hours a Ph.D. candidate must spend in the lab to complete the dissertation; the workload of teaching assistants? These questions, and others like them, remain unanswered.

In an effort to bring some clarity to this issue, we invite you to listen to a recorded webinar that Fisher Phillips hosted on August 30th. The link below provides access to a 60-minute webinar presented by Joe Ambash, Regional Managing Partner of the Fisher Phillips office in Boston. In this webinar, Joe discussed the Board’s decision, practical takeaways for institutions to be aware of, and guidance for how best to respond. We hope you find this presentation to be a useful tool and component of your response preparations.

Click here to view the webinar: Adapting to a New World: The Impact of the NLRB’s Columbia University Student Assistant Decision

For more information, visit our website at, or contact any member of our Higher Education Practice Group or your regular Fisher Phillips attorney.

Joe Ambash

Scott Schneider

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