The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) recently announced it was changing course on whether students should be considered employees and therefore can unionize. This change of course returns to previous Board precedent from case law that graduate students, and perhaps any students employed for pay, can be considered employees. This change of course also halts what many thought signaled the Board’s desire to answer this issue by rulemaking rather than through case precedent.
On March 15, the Board issued a notice withdrawing a proposed rulemaking from 2019 which many thought signaled the Board’s plan to adopt a rule regarding the status of students as employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The result of this withdrawal is that the governing precedent returns to the decision in Columbia v. NLRB in which the Board held that not only graduate students but any students employed for pay, may be employees subject to collective bargaining under the NLRA.