Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Happy Labor Day College Students; The NLRB is raising Your Tuition
Monday was Labor Day – the day to celebrate workers and the Labor Movement. You would not know it this year, but labor day is the traditional day of starting the fall election campaigns. Labor Day also often marks the new academic year. Let’s see how Labor and academics meet. First, let’s look at the status of the labor unions today. The good news is that the unionized percent of the labor force is 11.1%, the same as last year, down from 20.1% in 1983. Roughly 14.8% of the workers are unionized, down from 17.7 million in 1983. The interesting fact is that only 6.7% of the private labor market is unionized compared to 35.2% of the public sector. The unions are struggling valiantly to hold their own. Even the pro-labor NLRB has been unable to increase union membership. It views its mission to be increase union membership, which brings us yo academe, the relatively union free academe. The Obama Administration is decrying the cost of college. The Democratic candidates, Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton, advocate free college – free tuition. “Free, Free, Free” is the mantra of the Clinton campaign to win the college student votes. Writing off student loans is to appeal to the Millennials. Someone forgot to tell the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) about the soaring cost of higher education and student indebtedness. It voted in August to raise tuition at our major private universities. It would have also done so at our public universities, but the NLRB lacks jurisdiction over them. The NLRB is not the Department of Education, or any other agency with jurisdiction over education, so how can it raise tuition? It indirectly raised tuition by increasing the costs of the institutions. It held in August that graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants are employees subject to the National Labor Relations Act. The Board held that all employees are subject to the Act’s jurisdiction unless they fall into a specific exemption. No exemptions exist for students. The NLRB thereby overruled its 2004 decision which held graduates teaching classes are not employees under the act. It also overruled a 1974 decision that held graduate research students were not employees under the act. The research was viewed as a part of their learning process.; i.e. education, not employment. The only way to learn to do research is to do it. The Columbia graduate students are represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW). Also in the act are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Association of University professors, and the Teamsters. The UAW is also organizing at Harvard. The SEIU is active at Duke, Northwestern, and St. Louis Universities. The purpose of unionization is to increase wages and improve working conditions. Let’s imagine the teamsters and UAW on the campus picket lines. Let’s also remember what the UAW did to the auto industry. Let us also recognize though that graduate students serving as teachers were often treated as indentured labor. They worked long hours for little compensation in exchange for free tuition and a small stipend. The teaching loads often delayed the completion of the Ph.D. Even today graduate students and adjuncts are cheap costs compared to fulltime professors. They can reduce the number of the soon to be higher compensated graduate students or have the professors teach more classes, either of which will raise tuition. There will also be clashes over jurisdiction and job classifications, such as in the assembly plants. Academic fights over who can teach which courses could be dramatic. Soon there will be fully compensated shop stewards in the universities and faculty lounges.