WASHINGTON - February 26 - The AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers (UAW) today filed a complaint against the United States government with the International Labor Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, alleging that a 2004 decision by the Bush-dominated National Labor Relations Board in the Brown University case violates workers’ rights to the freedom of association. The complaint alleges that by denying teaching assistants and research assistants at private universities the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, the NLRB has violated workers’ rights under internationally recognized core labor standards.
“It’s shameful that the Bush Labor Board chose to deny the fundamental freedom to join a union and bargain collectively to those tasked with performing critical research and teaching duties at our nation’s finest universities,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “We urge the ILO to issue a strong condemnation of this latest attempt by the Bush board to strip working people of the right to come together to bargain with their employers for a better life.”
Thprotected in two provisions of ILO Conventions. Convention 87 states that, “Workers and employees, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and … to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization.” Convention 98 states, “Meae complaint the AFL-CIO filed today claims that this ruling “violates Graduate Teaching Assistants’ fundamental rights” sures appropriate to national conditions shall be taken, where necessary, to encourage and promote the full development and utilization of machinery for voluntary negotiation between employers or employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations, with a view to the regulation of terms and conditions of employment by means of collective agreements.”
The Brown decision reversed an earlier, unanimous decision by the NLRB in New York University (NYU), which held that teaching and research assistants are employees under the National Labor Relations Act. Employees covered by the Act are entitled to join unions and bargain collectively. The three-person majority in Brown, composed entirely of Bush administration appointees, ruled that teaching assistants and research assistants are not entitled to protection under the National Labor Relations Act because they are also enrolled as students.
The dissent in Brown characterized the majority opinion as “woefully out of touch with contemporary academic reality,” in which universities have become increasingly dependent on teaching and research assistants -- who earn far less in pay than regular faculty members, and receive almost no benefits -- in order to cut costs.
“Without the work of teaching and research assistants, America’s research universities could not function,” said Elizabeth Bunn, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Union, UAW. “It’s absurd for the National Labor Relations Board to deny them the protections of labor law.”
The NYU decision in 2000 led to a historic union contract for teaching and research assistants at NYU who formed GSOC/UAW, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers. This success inspired ongoing organizing efforts at major American universities, including Brown, Columbia, Tufts, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. Taking advantage of the fact that the NLRB now had a majority of Bush appointees, Brown successfully sought reversal of the Board’s earlier ruling in NYU.
At NYU, as a consequence of the Brown decision, the administration has refused to recognize the union or to bargain for a new agreement, but teaching assistants and research assistants continue to wage a campaign for their rights. Teaching and research assistants at a number of private universities are also fighting for their right to engage in collective bargaining despite their current status under U.S. labor law.