Grad student workers getting raw deal

First it was the railroad bosses, then industrial tycoons who treated workers like so many spare parts.  Now representatives from higher education want to effectively do the same thing by denying worker protections for graduate student employees at privately held universities and colleges nationwide. And GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are all for it.

In response to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposed review of its decision in Brown University v. NLRB, House Republicans will host a joint sub-committee hearing tomorrow entitled, “Expanding the Power of Big Labor: The NLRB’s Growing Intrusion into Higher Education.”

However, the title of that hearing might as well be “Denying Worker Protections in America’s Privately Held Universities.”

In 2004, the Brown v. NLRB ruling said that graduate student workers are generally not statutory employees. The ruling denies graduate student workers protection for engaging in concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. This includes communicating to each other or to an employer on behalf of one or more co-workers about the need to improve workplace conditions.

There is no legitimate reason for graduate student workers not to be considered employees of universities. They teach classes, grade papers, prepare food, clean buildings and complete the same job functions as other workers in academia.

House Republicans have accused the NLRB of intruding on “sacred ground” at privately held universities and colleges. Apparently, House Republicans need to be reminded of the NLRB’s mission:  To protect the rights of employees and employer, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the economy.

Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s worker safety and health advocate. Follow @SafeWorkers for more.