Sean P. Redmond Sean P. Redmond
Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


May 27, 2024


Not too long ago, this blog noted that the United Auto Workers (UAW) had curiously weighed in on the ongoing war in Gaza, which has seemingly little to do with the union’s core historic mission of representing auto workers. Fast forward, and the UAW has doubled down on its involvement by filing unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of graduate students protesting at colleges nationwide.

On May 15, the Harvard Graduate Students Union, a subsidiary of the UAW, accused Harvard of unlawful adverse actions against its members due to their ongoing campus protests about the conflict taking place over 5,000 miles away. In particular, the union alleges that the university engaged in surveillance and that the suspension of students for breaking university rules constituted retaliation in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The Harvard complaint is just the latest such allegation of NLRA violations that UAW-affiliated and other unions have launched in recent weeks. Over two dozen such unions released an open letter on May 6 condemning “the use of violent force and disciplinary actions by university administrations against students and workers peacefully protesting to demand their university administrations divest from the Israeli military and from companies profiting from the genocide in Gaza.”

In addition, unions representing students at Brown University and the University of Southern California have filed similar complaints with the NLRB. Members of United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents 48,000 academic workers and students at the University of California went even further by authorizing a strike to protest the arrests of hundreds of students, including some union members.

For the NLRB, these complaints will put the test to how far labor law may go to protect the disruptions student protests have unleashed recently.  The unions seem to believe that their members are protected by Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects “concerted activity.”

At the same time, that activity must be related to terms and conditions of employment. How unlawful encampments and harassment of fellow students based on a war thousands of miles away are tied to that is anyone’s guess, but given the proclivities of the current Board majority, one might not be surprised if they find a way.

A better question might be to ask why the UAW feels the need to go to bat for students who would rather engage in illegal protests rather than work. Perhaps this is what comes from trying to represent the widely divergent interests of so many fragmented types of workers, but it is a far cry from the UAW’s halcyon days. 

About the authors

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond

Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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