‘Fork Over Union Fees, or You Can’t Be an RA’

RA union fees
Almost half-a-century ago, world-renowned political philosopher Russell Kirk sounded the alarm about the growing threat to academic freedom posed by forced unionism. Now graduate students as well as professors are targets. (Credit: theimaginativeconservative.org)

Grad Student Forced to Bankroll Union to Receive Research Grant

Nearly half a century ago, eminent political scientist, historian and philosopher Russell Kirk identified the compulsory “agency shop” as “one of the chief perils to academic freedom.”

As Dr. Kirk, who passed away in 1994, explained, professors and teachers who “must pay a fee, or dues” to a union, “whether or not they are members of that union, and whether or not they wish to have that union” speak for them on workplace matters, lose their “freedom of choice.”

Since Dr. Kirk penned his essay addressing “Academic Freedom and the ‘Agency Shop’” in 1974, monopolistic unionism has unfortunately become widespread in higher education.

And in recent years, forced dues-hungry union bigwigs have increasingly targeted graduate students as well as professors.

Obama NLRB’s 2016 Columbia Decision Galvanized Forced Unionization of TA’s, RA’s

Campaigns by powerful Big Labor officials like the corrupt United Auto Workers (UAW/AFL-CIO) union hierarchy to force grad students to accept “exclusive” union representation and pay union dues or fees stepped up dramatically after Obama appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued the Columbia University decision in 2016.

Overturning a 12-year-old NLRB ruling, the pro-union monopoly Obama board found that grad students who partially finance their education as teaching assistants (TA’s) or research assistants (RA’s) at a private university are “employees” under federal labor law. For that reason, they are vulnerable to forced unionism.

Columbia has empowered UAW and other union bosses entrenched on campuses of higher education across the country to cut deals with university managers dictating that grad students can’t be a TA or an RA unless they fork over union fees. 

This is often true even of RA’s whose research is funded by external grants, rather than with university money.

Many independent-minded grad students who have good reason to believe they don’t benefit from union monopoly bargaining and oppose being forced to pay for it have reached out to National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys for advice about what they can do about their plight. 

Union Contract ‘Can Actually Be a Hindrance’ For RA’s in Many Fields

One such student, an RA whose grant is funded by a federal agency, emphasized to the National Right to Work Newsletter that the forced dues-extracting union “has nothing to do” with the size of the grant furnished to the university or how this grant is allocated by a research advisor.

Moreover, a union boss-demanded contract provision limiting RA’s to 20 hours of work a week “can actually be a hindrance for many fields where experiments run long and require regular check-ins or monitoring.” 

In order to get their experiments done while avoiding trouble with union officials, RA’s “tend to ignore” this union work rule, added the student, who prefers to remain anonymous.

National Right to Work Law Could End Forced Dues At Private Universities

National Right to Work Committee Vice President Matthew Leen commented:

“Thanks to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory won three years ago for a public-employee client by Foundation staff attorney Bill Messenger in Janus v. AFSCME, grad students at public universities may no longer be forced to bankroll monopolistic unions they would never join voluntarily.

“Unfortunately, the very compulsory-dues extractions from TA and RA paychecks that are now properly barred as First Amendment violations at public universities continue to be permitted at private institutions, even if the paychecks come entirely from funds furnished by taxpayers.

“In 2019, three Trump appointees on the NLRB offered a ray of hope to freedom-loving TA’s and RA’s who continue to be forced to bankroll unions post-Janus when they proposed a new rule overturning Columbia and reinstating grad students’ exemption from union monopoly control.

“But just this March, the Trump holdovers, apparently facing pressure from President Joe Biden’s handpicked NLRB acting general counsel, Peter Ohr, backed down and announced that the Columbia precedent would stand.  

“Now the most promising way to end forced-dues oppression for grad students, as well as for millions of American business employees, is passage of S.406/H.R.1275, the National Right to Work Act.

“This much-needed legislation would ensure that no one is forced to pay money to a union to get or keep a job, or to help pay his or her way through grad school as a TA or an RA.” 

This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter. You can go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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