If none of them agree to teach some awful courses, those courses might not be offered.
And if they bargain collectively for higher wages and benefits, the university's expenses can sky rocket.
All those scenarios could now happen at private universities. That's because the National Labor Relations Board ruled, reports The Wall Street Journal:
" ... that graduate students who teach at private universities are employees with full rights to join unions, a sweeping decision that paves the way for student unionization on campuses nationwide."
The case presented was by graduate students at Columbia University. The ruling also covers research assistants.
Historically, being a teaching or research assistant was essentially framed as part of one's career training. Therefore, you attitude had to be one of gratitude and compliance.
At the University of Michigan's Department of Language and Literature, we were supervised by a professor, paid low wages, had to accept the courses and time schedule handed to us, and had no guarantee of being assigned any classes the next semester. But, that's the way it was.
During my time in the doctoral program during the early 1970s, there was an attempt to organize a union for teaching fellows. But that failed. Primarily, I suspect, it was because most graduate students were passive and fearful of becoming the enemy of the wrong powerful figures in the academic system. We kept our heads down. Start a union? Not for us. For the six years of my master's and doctoral programs, I laid low and lived in terror.
Times have changed. The NLRB ruling will give teaching and research assistants power. However, that could be analogous to Uber contract drivers being classified as employees by winning "O'Connor v. Uber Technologies." Eventually, the driverless car could put all those employees out of work.
Since there are so few tenure-track teaching positions and many new doctoral graduates are unmarketable outside academia, a better situation for graduate students could be meaningless in the long run. Sure, some graduates of advanced degree programs are marketable. But more aren't.
The actual issue is: Should academic institutions keep offering advanced degrees in fields in which there are a declining number of jobs? Is that unethical?