About thirty years ago, I was a grad student TA at Michigan, which had a union for TAs. Our wages and benefits (esp. health) were way better than those held by the TAs at Yale at the time (they were not, needless to say, unionized).
That was then, of course. Market conditions changed, and wealthy private universities--and not-so-wealthy ones like NYU--had to respond to market pressures, pressures created often by the existence of unionized grad students elsewhere. NYU beat off a unionization challenge a decade or so ago by dramatically improving economic conditions for their PhD students, but NYU is especially vulnerable since the university's endowment does not allow it to compete in the "big leagues," so it is highly dependent on tuition and other short-term revenue and cheap labor, now mainly in the form of adjunct teaching.
Now the National Labor Relations Board has ruled, in a case brought by Columbia students, that grad students who work as TAs have the right to unionize, reversing a 2004 decision involving students at Brown. As usual, this brings forth the usual nonsense and tired canards about unions and the "special" character of graduate education. Thus the President of Yale:
As a Yale graduate student, professor, and administrator, I have experienced firsthand how the teacher-student relationship is central to the university’s academic enterprise. The mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars. I have long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be “supervisors” of their graduate student “employees.”
Today the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students at Columbia University, who assist with teaching and research as part of their education, are employees of that school. I disagree with this decision....
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences enrolls the world’s most promising students in its doctoral programs. These students choose Yale for the opportunity to study with our outstanding faculty, and to take advantage of the university’s wide array of academic resources, generous financial aid, and comprehensive benefits. Yale will continue to provide exceptional support to our graduate students as they focus on their scholarship, successfully complete their degree programs, and find rewarding careers.