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The Ivy League has an unexpected friend in Donald Trump

At first glance, Yale University does not look like a school with much love for the current president.

When Donald Trump first issued his anti-Muslim travel ban in January, the Yale administration said he was alarmed by the move. When Trump announced the withdrawal of the US UU Of the Paris climate agreement in June, Yale said it would do everything possible to combat global warming. And when Trump announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September, the Yale president told the student body how disappointed he was.

But you will not find Yale administrators at the forefront of the resistance when it comes to Trump's labor policies.

Despite its liberal reputation, the Ivy League school has fought a tough fight for years to prevent its graduate students from joining a union, arguing that students should not be recognized as employees under federal law. Trump could finally have solved the great headache of the university.

"They absolutely trust Donald Trump," said D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, the 270,000-person hospitality union that heads Yale's graduate student organizing campaign. "Yale, like all these Ivy League liberal schools in quotes, is fighting [unionization] brutally, hypocrisy is incredible"

Trump has already reformed the federal agency that arbitrates labor disputes for make it more friendly with employers. His two selections for the National Labor Relations Board: Republicans Marvin Kaplan, a former GOP Hill staff member, and William Emanuel, a former administration attorney, have changed the board of five members from liberal to conservative for the first time in years. The new board is expected to reverse the current legal precedent and say that graduate students at Yale and other private schools are not eligible to join the unions.

That would mark a significant blow to union organizing campaigns on university campuses across the country. Graduate students like Ruby Oram, a doctoral candidate at Loyola University Chicago, think that their schools will benefit from the Trump presidency, even when the same schools criticize much of their agenda.

"I think it's disgusting," said Oram, who teaches in Loyola's history department. "Waiting for the law to change is unfair and really disappointing in a school that prides itself on social justice."

The legal question of whether graduate students who teach classes qualify as "employees" eligible to unionize has been controversial for decades. While many states have paved the way for collective bargaining in public universities, the federal policy that covers private schools has come and gone. Several versions of the NLRB have ruled in a manner on the question of the graduate student, only to see their decisions reversed by a later board of a different political composition.

Waiting for the law to change is unfair and really disappointing in a school that prides itself on social justice.
Ruby Oram, graduate student at Loyola University Chicago

As it stands, the University of New York is the only private university where the Graduate students have a union contract. Apparently, that would change last year when the Democratic majority of the NLRB ruled that graduate students at Columbia University were employees under the law. That decision led to an outbreak of union elections on university campuses: some were successful, others were not.

But thanks to the rapid reshuffle of Trump by the NLRB, the August 2016 precedent probably will not last long.

Labor attorneys expect the recently conservative board, sooner or later, to address the subject of the graduate student once again. That would be a boon to the elite schools that have been trying to stifle the organization of graduate students, including the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and Cornell University.

In the end, those schools may not even need a failure that reverses the current precedent, simply the specter of one. Wilma Liebman, a former Democratic president of the NLRB, said a union campaign facing a university challenge would now have to consider whether it wants a Republican board to rule on the dispute, given the danger that an adverse decision will set a new precedent. .

"These are strategic choices," said Liebman. "They have to weigh the very real possibility of it reversing." I suppose they could say to themselves: "What do we gain by having a reversal of precedents?" Maybe [instead] they exert pressure -economic, political, whatever influence they have- on the university to move the ball without jeopardizing a change in the law "

In 2000, Liebman was one of the three members of the NLRB who first ruled that graduate students, in that case, those at New York University, had the right to form a union.In the US, collective bargaining rights alone are granted to those employees considered legal The board reasoned that NYU students were employees because they were doing a job – teaching undergraduates – in exchange for a payment – financial aid.

Then-board member Peter Hurtgen also ruled in favor of the students, even though he was a Republican who sympathized with the concerns of the school administration. "In a concurring opinion, Hurtgen clarified that he believed that NYU students were eligible to unionize because their teaching duties were not a necessary part of their education. Now, in private legal practice, he said he was not surprised that the graduate student's question has not yet been resolved 17 years later and may soon be litigated again.

"There is a strong ideological problem that can not be easily saved," Hurtgen said. "That is, if these graduate teaching assistants are employees, then all the rights and adornments of the statute and collective bargaining would seem to follow them in their graduate program." Colleges and universities are wisely concerned that this poses a very difficult problem to deal with. "

People go to graduate school to learn, although they also do work there, including research for faculty members and undergraduate professors. Universities argue that collective bargaining of graduate students could disrupt their education and even infringe on academic freedom. But they rarely raise their economic concerns with unionization, such as having to pay larger stipends or improve student health care plans.

Some schools have made a convincing case to their graduate students. Votes at both Harvard and Cornell earlier this year were too close to be conclusive, and Duke graduate students withdrew their union petition after a preliminary vote was strongly against.

Ivy League schools in particular – which conservatives often ridicule as hotbeds of radical liberalism – have been at the center of the struggle of higher education against collective bargaining for graduate students. In 2004, a conservative NLRB under President George W. Bush overturned NYU's decision, ruling that Brown University graduates were not employees and therefore could not unionize. The precedent Brown prevailed until last year's ruling in the Columbia case, which came to the opposite conclusion.

Given the legal flip-flops on the labor board, many organizing campaigns for graduate students have continued for years, even decades, waiting for an opportunity to hold an election. At Yale, the campaign dates back to the 1990s. Graduate teaching assistants decided to request an election after the board ruled against Columbia. They held a series of votes earlier this year.

The Unite Here union won eight out of nine elections held in individual academic departments at Yale in February. In addition to challenging the premise that graduate students are employed, Yale appealed the results of the election on the grounds that Unite Here departments carefully selected for favorable results. The school has said it would prefer that all graduate students vote in a single election. Your appeal is now before the NLRB.

In an email, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said that departmental elections – a format approved by a regional NLRB office – "denied the right to vote to more than 90% of Yale's doctoral students." He also accused the union and his tactics "have not garnered strong support at Yale," and noted that even the postgraduate student assembly opposed the department-by-department elections.

Conroy said the school has good relationships with its already unionized employees, including office employees, who are also represented by Unite Here. "But Yale and other universities have consistently believed that their graduate students who help teachers teach as part of their education should not be considered employees under federal labor law," he said. "Over the course of six years at Yale, compulsory education for doctoral students takes less than one sixth of their time."

Lena Eckert-Erdheim, who is doing a doctorate in history at Yale, helped in the organizing effort while waiting for her vote for five years. She wants a union for many of the same reasons that a nurse or factory worker would want it: constant increases, better health care coverage and a grievance procedure, particularly in regards to sexual harassment on the part of the workers. professors.

Eckert-Erdheim said she is disappointed with the school's insistence that she is not an employee and that she is not working technically.

"When I teach, I get a salary, my taxes are withheld, I get a W2 like in any other job," he said. "I love teaching, but it's certainly work"

In other schools, the legal uncertainties created by Trump's election have brought a sense of urgency to the union. Last week, graduate students at the University of Chicago voted overwhelmingly to form a union, 1,103 to 479, prompting tears of joy among pro-union students. The school administration had created a website with the kind of anti-union discussion points typically drawn up by consultants for corporate employers. Like Yale, the University of Chicago is challenging the election results on the basis that students are not employed.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League school where Trump graduated, graduate students began looking for signatures to obtain support shortly after Trump won the presidency, in order to request an election as quickly as possible.

"We talk about it as a race against the Trump clock," said Miranda Weinberg, a doctoral candidate in education at Penn. "We assumed that the administration of the university would use the Trump appointees on the board to try to take away the right of the graduated workers to unionize."

When I teach, I receive a salary. My taxes are withheld. It gives me a W2 like in any other job.
Lena Eckert-Erdheim, graduate student at Yale

The NLRB has not yet granted permission for an election at Penn. Even if it does, a wider and later failure of the board against graduate students could make the results irrelevant. But no matter what happens, Zachary Smith, a graduate student in Penn's political science department, said an election would finally make it clear if the majority of graduate students want union representation and would force the school to honor or ignore their will

"We are always going to contact Penn to ask them to allow graduate workers to respect the results of the election and the bargaining unit as it is constituted," Smith said. "And we expect Penn to accept the results of the elections, that's all we can say."

In a statement, the Penn administration said it was "extremely proud of the achievements of graduate students," but felt they were better off without collective bargaining. "At Penn, we see graduate students as students and our future colleagues instead of employees, and we believe that we can support them better without union intervention," the school said.

] Not all universities have questioned the validity of the unionization of graduate students. Tufts University said it was disappointed when an affiliate of the International Service Employees Union won an election there earlier this year. But the school agreed to negotiate with the union of graduate students instead of contesting its legitimacy. When the graduate students of Brandeis University voted in favor of a union in the spring, the school said it would start negotiating immediately.

If more schools choose to honor the results of union elections, Yale, Columbia, Penn, Chicago and others will find it harder to resist, particularly if their anti-union positions bind them to Trump. Many graduate student unionists promise to continue their campaigns for years if necessary, and plan to function as unions regardless of whether their school recognizes them.

"I think the outcome of the election showed us clearly, and should do so to the administration, that the Yale graduate employees want a union," said Eckert-Erdheim. "We really hope they do not continue to trust Donald Trump to avoid negotiating with us."

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