Court ruling gives MU grad workers renewed hope for unionization

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COLUMBIA - A ruling Tuesday from the National Labor Relations Board, which states graduate workers at private universities are considered employees, has given graduate workers at the University of Missouri new hope they may eventually be allowed to unionize.

That would grant graduate workers collective bargaining rights.

MU is a public university, so the ruling does not apply directly to it, but Coalition of Graduate Workers Outreach Officer Joseph Moore said the ruling may still help graduate workers fighting for the right to unionize.

"It does have an indirect impact in the sense that it sets a precedent at the federal level that state and local courts can follow," Moore said. 

He said graduate workers will stage a rally between Jesse Hall and The Columns on MU's campus on Wednesday at noon.

MU said in a statement that it still won't recognize graduate workers as employees, because it follows Missouri laws, ones that are different from those affected by the Labor Relations Board ruling on Tuesday.

That statement said, in part, "MU and graduate students still need guidance from Missouri courts about important, and as yet undecided, issues of unionization in our state."

Currently, MU graduate workers are in a legal battle with the university following a series of events over the past year. 

Last August, graduate workers organized a walkout as they called for fully subsidized health insurance, more affordable housing, and other benefits. Then, in April, more than 1,500 graduate workers voted for unionization, with 84 percent saying yes.

After that vote, MU said it would not recognize graduate workers as employees, citing legal issues in the state pertaining to unionization. In the university's statement Tuesday, MU said it continues to work toward improved relations with graduate workers. It cited increased minimum stipends, which MU said will go up each of the next two years. 

Graduate Student Minimum Stipends:

  • 2016-17: $13,771 for master's students and $15,148 for PhD students
  • 2017-18: $16,525 for master's students and $18,000 for PhD students

Moore said the labor board ruling pertaining to private schools should soon apply to public schools, because graduate workers' roles are similar at both.

"We're the same. We perform the same services. So, the definition of 'employee' the NLBR used for graduate students absolutely applies to graduate students at public as well as private universities," Moore said. 

The ruling said graduate students could be treated as employees if they perform and are paid for services the university oversees.

MU said it will continue to seek legal counsel on the legality of unionization of graduate workers as the lawsuit filed against it by the Coalition of Graduate Workers continues.