In an interesting turn foreshadowing a coming change in its leadership, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has withdrawn the rule it proposed in September 2019 to exclude student workers at private colleges and universities from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The proposed rule would have excluded students whose studies included working as teaching or research assistants at private higher education institutions from the definition of “employees” under the NLRA.
“Employees” under the NLRA have protected rights to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. The proposed rule would have categorically excluded student workers from these protections.
The NLRB has repeatedly shifted its position on the status of student workers. However, since 2016, the Board has held that an employment relationship can exist under the NLRA between a private college or university and its employee, even when the employee is simultaneously a student. Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90. The proposed rule would have reversed Columbia University and, as a rule, would have placed the non-employee status of student workers beyond the reach of NLRB case decisions. With the withdrawal of the proposed rule, Columbia University will remain controlling precedent.
Further, following the expiration of NLRB Member William Emanuel’s term in August 2021, President Joe Biden will have the authority to establish a new (presumably Democratic) majority of the NLRB. Perhaps in light of that, the Board “decided to withdraw this rulemaking proceeding … to focus its time and resources on the adjudication of cases currently in progress.”
For more details on the Board’s action, see our article published by Jackson Lewis’ Higher Education Industry Team, or contact our attorneys in the Labor Relations Group or Higher Education Industry Team about the NLRA and its application to student workers.