TA tussle


My friend is a grad student TA in European History. She fell working in the office. I told her the university is responsible for medical bills. Am I right?

This question has its genesis from the mishap of your friend. We hope it was a minor one, but it points to important issues that have arisen on college campuses. With the skyrocketing cost of college tuition this decade, students have begun to focus on their salaries earlier, while still serving as graduate student researchers and teaching assistants. The image of the impoverished TA working their way through college has faded with memories of Woodstock. Your parents may have demonstrated against the war, but now students protest for unionization, overtime and workers’ compensation. The past years have seen step-by-step advances in the rights of teaching assistants. There were several legal rulings along the way, but it was firmly established in August, 2016.

Last year’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling concluded that private colleges and universities must now consider some students as employees. With that decision comes the burden of higher compensation and greater liability by the university.

Students working as research and teaching assistants under the direction of their colleges now fall under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The original petition to join a union was championed by students at Columbia University.

All private colleges and universities, with an exemption for public colleges, now fall under NLRB jurisdiction. However, students at public colleges fall under state laws and, in some cases, are considered employees, making them subject to labor laws.

The ruling gives the right to join a union and the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Employers are also required to maintain safe work places.

It is the responsibility of the university to provide payroll information to insurers to calculate worker’s comp premiums owed by the university. This includes pay rates and number of students employed. In many cases, housing subsidies, salaries and stipends could also be used to calculate the premiums.

Safety training for student workers is also a requirement under the ruling, while many schools already provide this. The university needs to focus on incident reporting, campus safety rules, emergency preparations, violence in the workplace preparedness, and office ergonomics.

Since you originally asked about your friend’s injury, as a working graduate student she is covered by worker’s compensation.

If I went to work in a factory the first thing I’d do is join a union…

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.


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