August 23, 2016 2:20 PM EDT

The National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday paved the way for graduate student assistants to join labor unions after it ruled that such workers at private colleges and universities in the U.S. are considered employees under federal labor law.

Student teaching and research assistants at private universities will be allowed to vote to unionize after the board’s 3-1 decision overturned a 2004 precedent involving Brown University graduate student assistants. The ruling came after a group of graduate students at Columbia University filed a union election petition at the university in December 2014.

In 2004, the board ruled that assistants could not be considered employees because they are primarily students, according to the New York Times. The board on Tuesday said that decision “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections of the Act without a convincing justification.”

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