Graduate students at private universities have the legal right to unionize after a ruling that could affect student athletes, too.
Tuesday's ruling from the National Labor Relations Board states that graduate students who assist in teaching and research at private universities are employees and have a right to union representation.
The case in question involved graduate students at Colombia University, though the ruling potentially affects graduate students at hundreds of private colleges and universities.
According to The Associated Press, graduate students at many public universities, which are covered by state labor laws, are already unionized.
United Auto Workers supported their effort and a UAW press release, quoting a research assistant, called the ruling an "important milestone."
Fred Wszolek of the Workforce Fairness Institute calls it a terrible, no-good idea that was predictable coming out of the National Labor Relations Board.
"These graduate students generally do some work around the classroom (and) in exchange, they generally get deeply discounted if not free tuition, and that's sort of been the deal forever," he says. "Sometimes they get a cash stipend, and sometimes they get access to the health care center, but now they want to unionize as well, and of course that's going to cost everybody a lot more."
Much like UAW supporting graduate students, it was the United Steelworkers that backed an unsuccessful effort on behalf of college football players at Northwestern University.
Wszolek predicts the NLRB decision favoring football players will follow the graduate assistant ruling.
Trey Kovacs of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says it certainly could bring back the argument because NLRB claims the definition of "employee" is a broad one.
"It's really up to the NLRB if they want to consider college football players employees in the future," he says.
In the meantime, Wszolek says things could quickly become taxable. If they are now an employee and a union member, he says, "all of a sudden these students are going to start owing taxes on the value of the tuition they're receiving for free."