Ted Kennedy says that workplace rights for graduate employees improve undergraduate education.

So I’m back from Illinois and Ohio with some kind of Andromeda strain eating away at my lungs and sinuses, but wanted to quickly post the interesting news that Ted Kennedy has–after several years’ dithering–at last waded into the fray over bargaining rights for graduate employees at private institutions.

Graduate employee bargaining rights have been won in numerous public institutions (where they are covered by state law) and were won for private institutions, which are covered by federal law, during the Clinton administration. The critical case was GSOC-UAW, representing grad employees at NYU, and was decided unanimously by a bipartisan NLRB–only to be shabbily reversed by Bush appointees during the Brown decision. You can read the scathing dissent to the sleazeball work of the Bush mob on my site and at the NLRB.

In all likelihood, a Democratic victory will see those bargaining rights restored. But Kennedy has introduced a bill guaranteeing those rights, seeking to put them beyond the increasingly dishonest political manipulation of the NLRB:

More than ever in modern education, teaching and research assistants are in classrooms every day, educating students in colleges and universities across the country. Their numbers are increasing as the number of full time faculty dwindles. Often, teaching and research assistants are now doing the same job as junior faculty members.

In fact, the classroom is a workplace for these scholars. It’s where they earn the money they need to pay to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. They deserve the right to stand together and make their voice heard in their workplace. Like other employees, they should have the right to join a union and improve their working conditions. Obviously, better wages and working conditions for them also means better education for their students.

In 2004, however, a decision by the National Labor Relations Board changed the law and denied fundamental workplace rights and protections for teaching and research assistants. This ruling stopped an active organizing movement in its tracks and deprived thousands of teaching and research assistants of their right to organize and bargain over their wages and working conditions.

It’s hardly the only bad decision by the National Labor Relations Board under the Bush Administration, which has been the most anti-worker, anti-labor, anti-union NLRB in history. The Board has let workers down at every turn. It has blocked efforts to gain union representation, undermined workers’ attempts to improve their pay and benefits, and exposed them to penalties for seeking to improve their working conditions.

Of course changing the law won’t magically fix the problems of grad students–I put this question to the GSOC-UAW organizers and others in an interview recently. The key will have to be maintaining an organization that can express the united power of the student employees regardless of who seizes control of the law. More on that after I’ve defeated the Andromeda strain.

Oh, and I know I should weigh in on the whole discussion of tenure raised by comrade Fendrich. I’ll have to save up my energy for that.






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