By Caleb Smith
William Gould IV is a professor emeritus at the Stanford Law School and served as the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from 1994-98. The NLRB recently ruled that teaching assistants (TAs), many of whom are graduate students, are eligible to organize labor unions and collectively bargain their contracts. The Daily asked Professor Gould about efforts to organize at Stanford, next steps and the possible merits of TA unions.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Have you heard anything about students at Stanford trying to organize a graduate student union?
William Gould (WG): Not in recent years or months. I do recall that when there was a discussion about some of the earlier NLRB decisions involving NYU and Brown University. Years ago, I spoke to a group of graduate students, teaching assistants — of course this [most recent] decision covers undergraduates as well — who were interested in invoking the procedures of the NLRB [to organize a union].
TSD: What happened last time students were interested in organizing?
WG: I know that Stanford University has historically been hostile to the idea of collective bargaining for employees here at the University, generally, but I don’t think that anything with this group of employees ever got sufficiently off the ground to raise the issue. My recollection is that I received a number of inquiries from people here and also from people throughout the United States who were graduate teaching assistants, who were interested in invoking NLRB procedures.
TSD: As you may be aware, the Stanford administration filed an amicus brief against TA unions when the NLRB was considering the question. What do you think are the next steps for the University here? Do you anticipate them trying to make some appeal to the students or do you think they will continue to pursue legal options?
WG: Probably both. If there is some [unionizing] activity here, there may very well be some appeal to the students suggesting it is not in their interests to organize into a union. I would imagine if the students do organize and vote for representation, Stanford [may] very well take appeals to the courts of any kind of NLRB decision which certifies a union as bargaining representative. One can never be certain about this, and we will have to wait and see how this plays out.
TSD: What is your evaluation of the impact of TA unions?
WG: I think that the impact of unions is generally positive. There are union uses and there are union abuses. Unions are not perfect but if these employees have someone speaking for them collectively they will be better able to obtain [a] voice with the university [than] in the absence of union representation.
If you know of any effort to organize a labor union at Stanford, please contact Caleb Smith at caleb17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.