NLRB Agrees with Patrick Bryant and Patterson Harkavy Law Firm that Duke University PhD Workers May Form a Union

January 18, 2017

A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board affirmed that Duke University PhD students have the right to form a union because they, like common-law employees, work in exchange for compensation. Attorney Patrick Bryant, at the request of Service Employees International Union, assisted the primary attorneys, Patterson Harkavy, LLP, and SEIU Fellow Trisha Pande, to advocate for the rights of graduate workers. This parallels graduate student organizing drives at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard Universities.

Duke provides doctoral students with receive free tuition and an annual stipend of about $30,000 for at least five years. In exchange, Duke mandates that these students work as teaching assistants and/or research assistants. They perform many of the following tasks: class instruction; paper/exam grading; tutoring; conducting research for an article, essay or book for a faculty member; and/or conducting research pursuant to a faculty member's federal grant, for which Duke receives compensation. In other words, doctoral students provide instructional services to tuition-paying undergraduate students, or perform work that becomes the intellectual property of Duke and the faculty. Doctoral students are indispensable to the functioning and financial health of Duke. They perform necessary services that otherwise would be performed by faculty or other employees.

As such, the Director of NLRB Region 10 agreed that Duke PhD students are employees under the NLRA who perform services in exchange for compensation and therefore have the right to form a union. The Regional Director rejected the arguments set forth by Duke's multiple attorneys, a NYC law form are known to charge up to $1,500 an hour for each major attorney working on a case.

The Regional Director further agreed with SEIU attorneys that the vote should be conducted by mail ballot and that PhD students currently working as research assistants or have worked as teaching assistants in the past year should be eligible to vote.

The mail ballots will be counted February 21.

Related Attorney: 
Patrick N. Bryant