Georgetown TAs consider unionization after ruling

September 2, 2016

Photo: Megan Howell

On Aug. 23, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that students working as teaching and research assistants at private universities have the right to unionize. This decision gives both graduate and potentially undergraduate teaching assistants and research assistants at universities and colleges like Georgetown a federally backed right to collective bargaining. The Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC), a student advocacy group at Georgetown, hopes this new NLRB ruling will change Georgetown’s understanding of the university’s relationship with student assistants.

“Currently, PhD students at Georgetown are considered to be students, not employees. The work that we do as TAs has, up to date, been referred to as an academic ‘service obligation’ rather than work done in exchange for a salary or stipend,” wrote Deidre Nelms, a doctoral student in Georgetown’s philosophy department and a DSC organizer, in an email to the Voice. “Teaching assistants are both students with an academic relationship to the university and employees, with an economic relationship to the university. We hope that this will be reflected in the language of future contracts.”

The DSC is not advocating unionization at this time, but is currently investigating the level of student interest among student assistants from all parts of campus. A DSC Working Group on Unionization researched and discussed unionization over the course of the summer in anticipation of the NLRB ruling. The DSC is to host a public discussion in October on the possibility of unionization for both graduate and undergraduate students. “We are excited about the NLRB ruling, but we feel that the decision of whether or not to unionize should be made as openly and democratically as possible,” wrote Nelms.

Other student groups at Georgetown are also looking into the possibility of unionization. In an email to the Voice, the Georgetown Graduate Student Government (GradGov) wrote that they have “been in continued communication with the Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC) and the Medical Center Graduate Student Organization since March. As the primary representative organization to the Georgetown graduate student body, we are committed to engaging in open dialogue with all relevant parties to determine our next steps.”

A broad range of students could be affected by upcoming decisions. “Should we eventually decide to start a union, it would have to include masters students with teaching roles, and possibly undergraduates with TA responsibilities,” wrote Nelms.

Georgetown has not yet issued a public statement with a reaction to the ruling.

“Georgetown is reviewing the ruling,” the Georgetown Graduate School of Arts and Sciences wrote in an email to the Voice. “Student employment is an important component of our learning and living community, and we continue to seek opportunities to make the experience a positive one for all concerned.”

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