Less than a week after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that teaching assistants at private universities are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, graduate assistants in 10 Yale academic departments filed separate petitions for union elections with the Board. The union seeking to represent the graduate assistants, UNITE HERE Local 33, is asking for separate elections under the NLRB’s 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision, which held that “micro” bargaining units are appropriate if workers in them constitute a readily identifiable group sharing a community of interest.
The union’s strategy at Yale stands in contract to the approach taken at Columbia University, where the election petition included about 3,000 graduate assistants and teaching assistants in one bargaining unit. At Yale, separate elections will be held in the departments of comparative literature, East Asian languages and literatures, English, geology and geophysics, history, history of art, mathematics, physics, political science and sociology. In total, there are about 800 graduate assistants in the 10 petitioned-for units.
It is not yet clear whether Yale will stipulate to the elections in the separate units or contest them on the grounds that the graduate assistants have an “overwhelming community of interest” under Specialty Healthcare and therefore belong in one bargaining unit. Given the NLRB’s very pro-labor stance in recent years, it is unlikely that such a challenge would be successful. Private colleges and universities should expect that what happened at Yale this week will soon be coming to their campuses, as both undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants will seek union representation on a department by department basis. I’m glad I only have one more semester of tuition bills to pay ….