The Unexpected Class Of 2016? Groundbreaking Labor Board Decision Creates New Class Of Supervisors


Recently, in a high-profile decision involving Columbia University, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that private college and university graduate and undergraduate student assistants - that is, students who perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated - can be "statutory employees" under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This includes student assistants engaged in research funded by external grants as well as students receiving stipends.

As administrators sort through the institutional implications, there is at least one unintended consequence of this decision with which colleges and universities must immediately grapple: a whole host of employees who were not traditionally considered managers may now be considered "supervisors" for purposes of the NLRA. This means that their actions can potentially constitute institutional unfair labor practices.

Who Are NLRA Supervisors?

Under the NLRA's statutory definition, a "supervisor" includes "any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, layoff, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment."

While each school will have to conduct its own fact-specific analysis to make this determination, it is entirely possible that certain unexpected employees may be deemed supervisors given this broad definition. For instance, faculty members, including non-tenured faculty, may now be considered NLRA statutory supervisors of student assistants.

What Does It Mean To Be A Supervisor?

Identifying the new class of supervisors and ensuring they understand the rights of student assistants under the NLRA, as well as the limits on the nature of their interactions with student assistants, is important to ensure your institution does not inadvertently commit unfair labor practices.

More specifically, your new supervisors need to understand that student assistants are permitted to act together by protest, meeting, emails...

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