Grad Students Are Employees, Too


Mike Steele | Flickr

Unions win admission to Columbia. The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students and teaching assistants have the right to unionize at private universities (The New York Times). The Columbia grad students who won the case say it’s less about wages than issues of power and independence and their ability to protect themselves in the “corporatized, hierarchical” world that their university has become. The university says the grad students should be viewed primarily as students; the NLRB disagreed, ruling that if they get paid and supervised like other employees, then, like other employees, they should be able to join a union, too. The students join employees of some digital media outfits in the “unions aren’t as dead as you thought” parade. The NLRB’s move is a sharp reminder to companies and institutions of all stripes: share power and decision-making with stakeholders, or don’t be surprised when they organize. Related: If graduate assistants are employees, why aren’t college athletes? (Pacific Standard)

EpiPen train wreck shows how broken healthcare pricing is. EpiPens are easy-to-use quick-injection devices that save the lives of children and other people who are prone to sudden allergic reactions that block their breathing. The medicine in them — epinephrine — costs about $1. But one company, Mylan, has a monopoly, and it has aggressively marketed EpiPens (Gizmodo) while raising their price roughly six-fold in the past few years (Forbes). An EpiPen two-pack (the only kind available) now costs about $600. People need to keep lots of them around, and they expire every year. So, just another pharma price-gouging tale, right? Here’s the twist: Mylan gives patients discount coupons that cover their copayments, so in theory the customer shouldn’t care about the price— only insurance companies are on the hook. But we’ve spent the last decade pushing people into high-deductible insurance plans,on the theory that, if patients have some skin in the cost game, they will help introduce market discipline. That’s exactly what’s happening: Those sticker-shocked insurees are either raising a stink or forgoing the purchase entirely. Congress is up in arms, too, which surely isn’t what Mylan wanted. (Its CEO is the child of a West Virginia senator.) Moral: A company that views the health marketplace as an arena for maximum profit extraction and puts lives at risk will end up a pariah.

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