NLRB Guidelines for Faculty Members During a Union Organizing Campaign and Election

During a union organizing campaign and election, employers are required to adhere to certain conduct guidelines established by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Anyone who holds a supervisory role is also subject to these guidelines. The recent NLRB decision means that deans and department chairs, as well as any faculty members who direct graduate students as TFs or RAs, are considered “supervisors” by the NLRB. While you as faculty members may not consider yourselves “supervisors,” the law will view you as such if you have direct or indirect oversight of graduate students’ work assignments, appointments, and other conditions of employment. Thus, we wanted to alert you to the NLRB ground rules.

AS A SUPERVISOR, YOU MAY:

  • Continue to engage with students in research, teaching, and mentoring. You should feel comfortable maintaining your relationships with students and monitoring the academic progress of the students you advise.
  • Share your opinion on graduate student unionization and the reasons for your opinion (while refraining from making threats or promises—see below). Supervisors are not required to remain silent or neutral (though they may, of course, choose to do so); they are free to express their opinions on a potential union vote.
  • Encourage students to vote (in the event of an election), since the outcome will be determined by a majority of those who actually vote.

ACTIONS THAT ARE NOT PERMISSIBLE:

According to the NLRB, supervisors may not:

  • Threaten adverse consequences—either in terms of student status or work as TFs or RAs—if students support the union. Don’t make threatening statements or use intimidating language that might influence a student’s decision on whether to sign an authorization card or vote in favor of the union.
  • Make general threats of adverse consequences if the union wins an election. While you can say that collective bargaining is an uncertain process, and that it comes with no guarantees, do not make general statements, such as that the University would never agree to certain demands that a union might make. Implied threats are also prohibited. For example, suggesting that existing stipends will be reduced if the union is elected could be viewed as a threat.
  • Interrogate students about union activity. Don’t ask students what they think about the union, how they intend to vote, whether they have signed an authorization card, the names of other students who support the union and/or have signed a card, the identity of leaders of the union campaign, or other questions about the union’s internal affairs, meetings, etc. If a student volunteers such information, you are permitted to listen, but don’t ask other questions to obtain additional information.
  • Promise favorable consequences if a student votes for or against the union. Don’t promise individual students rewards or future benefits if they vote in a particular way. Likewise, don’t make general promises of favorable consequences if a majority votes against the union. Implied promises are also prohibited. For example, don’t suggest to students that whatever their issues are, they will be addressed by the administration if the union is defeated.
  • Engage in surveillance of union meetings and other union activity. Don’t spy or eavesdrop on union activities, or act as though you are trying to find out if students are participating in union activities, or discriminate against students based on union activity. Don’t treat known union supporters less, or more, favorably than other students.
  • Forbid union organizing activities, such as solicitation, during free time (i.e. time when TFs and RAs are not expected to be working), unless the activities are disruptive. In general, students are free to solicit other students and encourage them to support the union during free time. Organizers who are not students should be allowed the same access to premises as other outside visitors. If organizers are interfering with University business, please contact your school’s administration.

For general NLRB guidance to employers, please see:
https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/employerunion-rights-and-obligations
https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/whats-law/employers/election-related-content

If you have any questions about what is and isn’t permitted, please send an email to provost@harvard.edu and we will do our best to get you an answer.