Harvard Will Bargain with Grad Students Union, Other Boston Area Students Encouraged

by Paul Garver

Harvard University will recognize and bargain with the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers.   The union is now electing its bargaining committee and will base its demands upon in-depth surveys of the members of the bargaining unit. By creating a broad bargaining committee representing all sectors, the union hopes to overcome its relative weaknesses in some fields and professional schools.

The HGSU/UAW won the representation election on 18-19 April. Of the ca. 5000 eligible Harvard graduate students/research assistants and teaching fellows 1931 voted for union representation to 1523 against.

The union had narrowly lost a previous election held in November 2016.  The election was rerun in response to an appeal to the NLRB from the UAW because Harvard had violated the Excelsior rule by failing to supply with union with accurate eligibility lists.

The No vote remained constant between the two elections, but the Yes vote gained 500.   According to an extensive exit poll conducted by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, most new voters voted yes.

The exit poll revealed results that were both expected and surprising.

The strongest pro-union votes came from graduate students in arts and humanities (91% in favor), social sciences (88.5%), and the professional schools of government (91%), education (90%), public health (89%), law (88.5%) and design (81%).

Fewest yes votes came from engineering/applied sciences (28%), medicine (38.5%) and sciences (49.7%).   Students from the overall Graduate School of Arts & Sciences voted 66.4%, while those from Harvard College only 48.5%. Older students voted more pro-union than younger ones (83% if 29-33, 66.6% from 23-28, 47.5% from 18-22).

President Drew Faust and Provost Alan Garber announced willingness to bargain with the union over employment-related issues, while maintaining strict control over academic issues.  (In practice these issues are closely intertwined, and by insisting that these employees are primarily “students” Garber indicated the University could be intransigent on most sensitive bargaining issues.)

Nevertheless Harvard is breaking with elite private universities like Columbia, Yale and Chicago who are refusing to bargain with unions of graduate students, in the expectation that the Supreme Court will overturn the 2016 NLRB ruling that graduate students could form a union and bargain collectively.  Successful completion of a collective bargaining agreement at Harvard could set a valuable precedent.

Harvard has bargained decent contracts for several decades with its union of clerical and technical employees, and may choose to follow a responsible course with its graduate student employees as well, even if the Supreme Court rules it does not have to do so.

In early 2018 some national unions trying to organize graduate students withdrew representation petitions (e.g. U Chicago) in fear that the Supreme Court will profit from a challenge to a representation petition by ruling against NLRB protection of student employee organizing.

However other graduate student organizing efforts in the Boston area have redoubled efforts to organize and bargain, correctly assessing that formal law is not their ally.   The Boston University grad school organizing group (BURGER) is promoting mutual support networks with other area student organizing  a concerted push to profit from a positive outcome at Harvard.

Two hundred graduate employees at Brandeis Univ. have joined SEIU 509’s organizing drive. They held a militant May Day March to demand Brandeis bargain in good faith.

kreider

[Ed. note pg – I am particularly delighted by the union victory at Harvard.  50 years ago we formed an association of graduate students and teaching fellows at Harvard to oppose the Vietnam war, and participated in the 1969 strike.  Although we did not demand collective bargaining at the time, Harvard did unilaterally boost our teaching stipends by some 40% in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve our grievances.  I applaud the new generation for following the union organizing model for more lasting results.]

 

 

 

 

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