Early Legal History
1842: Commonwealth v. Hunt was the first American ruling on legality of organized labor: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that labor combinations were not in violations of the law, but that striking was criminal activity.
1898: Erdman Act, a federal law prohibiting the use of “yellow dog” contracts in the hiring of railroad workers. “Yellow dog” contracts are contracts in which the employer agrees not to join a union.
1902: Adair v. United States upholds “yellow dog” contracts; Erdman Act declared unconstitutional.
1935: Wagner Act leads to establishment of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to adjudicate in labor-management cases; guarantees “…the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.”
1947: Taft-Hartley Act guarantees the protection of workers and employers from unions, specifically from unfair labor practices; these included, but were not limited to: excessive dues, secondary boycotts, closed shop agreements, and mandatory union participation.
Recent Student Unionization Cases Regarding Private Colleges and Universities
2000: New York University case—NLRB rules that graduate students are eligible for collective bargaining rights and are by definition employees in addition to their status as students
2002: NYU is the first private university to recognize a graduate student union, United Auto Workers (UAW)
2004: Brown case—NLRB upholds Brown University’s claim that graduate teaching assistants, research assistants and proctors are students, and thus cannot be classified as workers eligible for organization in a collective bargaining unit; this reverses the New York University decision.
2005: NYU withdraws its recognition of UAW; graduate students begin two-year strike that is ultimately unsuccessful
2012: NLRB agrees to hear appeal by NYU graduate students concerning Brown case
2013: NYU and UAW settle out of court, UAW is recognized by NYU once more, and the 2012 appeal is withdrawn
2016: Columbia case (with the New School)—NLRB rules that graduate and undergraduate student assistants at private colleges and universities are, by definition, workers, and thus are eligible for collective bargaining rights, etc.; this reverses the Brown decision.