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Board Ruling Paves Way for More Oregon State U. Graduate Students to Unionize

The Oregon Employment Relations Board has ruled that all graduate research assistants at Oregon State University qualify as public employees and so have the right to unionize. The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports that the panel’s 2-to-1 decision, handed down on January 4, ends a lengthy dispute between the university and the Coalition of Graduate Employees, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that already represents hundreds of graduate students who work at Oregon State. Most of those students work as teaching assistants, who voted in 1999 to form a union.

The decision paves the way for graduate research assistants to also unionize. The university had resisted efforts to qualify research assistants as employees, arguing that their work was performed mostly in pursuit of an academic degree, according to the newspaper. The Coalition of Graduate Employees had sought to expand its bargaining unit by filing a petition with the employment panel in March, but an administrative-law judge ruled for the university in August, the newspaper reports.

Steve Clark, Oregon State’s vice president for university relations, said the university would not contest the panel’s ruling and would await the outcome of a certification vote, according to the newspaper. He added that the unrepresented students receive pay and benefits that are similar to the unionized workers, but he said it was unclear what the other effects of the decision might be.

“We don’t know what all the ramifications are,” Mr. Clark told the newspaper. “The question we’ll be evaluating over the next several months is how do we work with these graduate students, how do we communicate with these graduate students if the rules change?”

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