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NLRB Ditches Rulemaking That Aimed to Halt Student-Worker Unions

March 12, 2021, 1:51 PM

The National Labor Relations Board scrapped a proposal that would have made student workers at private universities ineligible to form or join unions.

“The Board has decided to withdraw this rulemaking proceeding at this time in order to focus its limited resources on competing Agency priorities, including the adjudication of unfair labor practice and representation cases currently in progress,” the NLRB said in a statement Friday.

The move to abandon the proposal, which was released in September 2019 but never finalized, makes it likely that student workers at private universities will retain their right to unionize for the remainder of the Biden presidency, and possibly longer. The withdrawal was posted in a Federal Register notice Friday morning.

The board has wavered in recent years—usually based on its partisan makeup—on whether graduate teaching assistants and other student workers at private universities are considered union-eligible employees under the National Labor Relations Act. Labor rights were given to student workers in 2000, rescinded in 2004, and restored in 2016.

In 2019, the board’s Republican majority argued in a statement accompanying the proposed rule that the relationship between students and schools “is predominately educational rather than economic.”

“In the past 19 years, the Board has changed its stance on this issue three times,” then-Chairman John Ring (R) said. “This rulemaking is intended to obtain maximum input on this issue from the public, and then to bring stability to this important area of federal labor law.”

The move to abandon the rulemaking indicates the board’s three-member Republican majority is looking to triage unfinished policies in its final months.

Democrats will be in a position to retake the majority on the five-seat board after the term of Republican member William Emanuel expires in August—assuming the Biden administration will be able to win Senate confirmation of a Democratic replacement for Emanuel and a nominee to fill a long-vacant Democratic seat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Lauinger at