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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Brown, Mr. Feingold, and Mr. Schumer):

S. 2891. A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to apply the protections of the Act to teaching and research assistants; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it is important for Congress to do more to guarantee graduate students the right to organize and to bargain over their wages and working conditions as teaching and research assistants, so I am introducing legislation today to do so.

More than ever in modern education, teaching and research assistants are in classrooms every day, educating students in colleges and universities across the country. Their numbers are increasing as the number of full time faculty dwindles. Often, teaching and research assistants are now doing the same job as junior faculty members.

In fact, the classroom is a workplace for these scholars. It's where they earn the money they need to pay to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. They deserve the right to stand together and make their voice heard in their workplace. Like other employees, they should have the right to join a union and improve their working conditions. Obviously, better wages and working conditions for them also means better education for their students.

In 2004, however, a decision by the National Labor Relations Board changed the law and denied fundamental workplace rights and protections for teaching and research assistants. This ruling stopped an active organizing movement in its tracks and deprived thousands of teaching and research assistants of their right to organize and bargain over their wages and working conditions.

It is hardly the only bad decision by the National Labor Relations Board under the Bush administration, which has been the most anti-worker, anti-labor, anti-union NLRB in history. The Board has let workers down at every turn. It has blocked efforts to gain union representation, undermined workers' attempts to improve their pay and benefits, and exposed them to penalties for seeking to improve their working conditions.

The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to protect the rights of American workers, but it is failing teaching and research assistants, just as it has failed so many others. By passing the Teaching and Research Assistants Collective Bargaining Rights Act, Congress will give these workers back the rights that the National Labor Relations Board has taken away. This legislation amends the definition of employee under the National Labor Relations Act to explicitly include teaching and research assistants at private universities and colleges and restores the law to where it was before the Bush board's anti-worker decision.

This bill is a significant step forward in restoring workers' rights, and I urge my colleagues to join in supporting this important legislation.

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