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Students, Workers, or Both?

A US labor board has proposed a rule to not consider graduate students at private institutions employees, a move ScienceInsider says could affect their ability to unionize.

According to its listing in the Federal Register, the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces labor law, has put forward a "regulation establishing that students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not 'employees.'"

If this rule were to be implemented, ScienceInsider says it could hamper on-going unionization efforts. It notes that there has been a back-and-forth on the issue of whether graduate assistants are employees, with the central argument focusing on whether the teaching or research they perform is part of their studies or is a job.

A NLRB ruling in 2000 found that New York University grad students could unionize, but a 2004 ruling said that Brown University grad students could not. But then in 2016, it found that Columbia grad students who received compensation for teaching or research duties were employees.

Following that decision, ScienceInsider reports that there efforts to unionize at not only Columbia, but also other institutions. This rule, though, could affect those ongoing negotiations, it adds.

The proposed rule is open for comments through November 22.