What can a union do about housing?
Labor law states that employers and unions must negotiate over hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment. (NLRA, 29 USC §158(d)) Anything that falls outside of that either side can refuse to bargain over. So, does on-campus housing fall under hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment?
Short answer: **no**, and therefore PGSU cannot expect to be able to bargain over housing. Housing is offered to us as students, not employees, and housing priority and pricing is completely dependent on our academic relationship and not our employee relationship with the university. Housing is therefore not a term or condition of employment.
There has been only one legal case regarding unions and grad student housing, and that was in 2010 at the University of Illinois and was argued before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. (The decision for this case is not posted online, but we are more than happy to share the decision with anyone who asks for it.) Although this was not a decision from the NLRB, which oversees unionization for private universities, the decision was based on the same labor law that the NLRB interprets and uses other NLRB cases as precedent.
The question of the case was whether the University of Illinois increasing the cost of grad student housing was an unfair labor practice or not. The decision acknowledges other cases where the price of employer-provided housing was ruled to be a term or condition of employment (mostly for industrial workers in company towns) because the housing was held as below-market rates and offered just to company employees. Grad housing at Princeton is held at below-market rates, but it is not just offered to employees (AI’s and AR’s). Fellowship students can live in on-campus housing, and fellowship students are not employees of the university. In the case of the University of Illinois, the housing was neither held at below-market rated nor was it offered just to employees, so the IELRB ruled that university-provided housing was not a term or condition of employment and thus fell outside what a union could address. At Princeton, our housing is held at below-market rates, but it is offered to us as students and not employees, which seems to be the overriding consideration of the two, and thus it seems to us that precedent indicates a union at Princeton would not be able to negotiate anything regarding the price of housing.
It is also worth mentioning that, as far as we have been able to find, no union in the country has been able to negotiate for more employer-provided housing. Even if a union is able to have a say in the amount of housing, it will not be able to negotiate or strike to get the university to build more housing.