Grad Students to the Barricades!
Here’s a familiar story from about a decade ago: a pair of political antagonists conduct an increasingly bitter election campaign, ending in frustrating indecision. Disputes pile up over the legitimacy of the balloting process, and government officials are called in to intervene. Finally, a federal panel, boasting a majority of Republican appointees, shuts down the vote-counting outright, yielding a conservative victory.
This is, of course, Bush v. Gore in outline. But the presidential election was not the only disputed vote around the turn of the millennium to get resolved in this way. Parallel events played out on the campuses of several private universities in the early 2000s. Graduate students organized themselves to win union recognition, and Republican appointees and university administrations conspired to quash the effort, ultimately preventing the counting of ballots in union elections on several campuses.
In 2000, the Clinton-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board, ruling on a New York University case, extended organizing protections to graduate students at private universities. (At many public institutions, graduate students had long been organized, thanks to the protection of friendly state laws.) The board stated that because “graduate assistants perform services under the control and direction of the Employer” and “are compensated for these services by the Employer,” their relationship with their university is “indistinguishable from a traditional master-servant relationship.”