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.]

 

 

 

 

Friedrichs v CTA – A Potential Union Killer

Supremecourt

by Harold Meyerson

About a month ago, the Supreme Court closed out its term in a blaze of nonpartisan glory. Or nonpartisan obloquy, depending on one’s reaction to the court’s legalization of same-sex marriage and its upholding of Obamacare — but nonpartisan either way. A court with a Republican-appointed majority upheld a Democratic president’s health insurance program and a marital policy that most Republican officeholders felt obliged to oppose (even if most Republican political consultants felt relieved to see gay marriage rendered a fait accompli).

But that was then. In the term that will begin this fall, the court has a splendid opportunity to deliver the most partisan decision it has rendered since Bush v. Gore. When the court rules in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , which will be argued in the coming months, the Republican-appointed justices will be able, if they so choose, to create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats.

Friedrichs is a case brought by a California teacher who objects to paying dues to the union that has bargained the contract that secures her pay and benefits. The union does not collect any money from her to support its political activities, but, by virtue of the court’s 1977 Abood decision, and hundreds of later decisions based on Abood, she is obliged to pay that portion of her dues that goes to bargaining and administering her contract. That obligation, the court ruled in Abood, is essential if public employees are to have an effective right to collective bargaining. If employees can benefit from union representation without funding the union, the court reasoned, the union could be weakened to the point that it couldn’t represent those employees adequately, if, indeed, at all. Continue reading

Decline in Unions a Leading Factor in Income Inequality

By James Parks

Unions and Inequality

AFL-CIO

With union members under attack across the country, a new study shows how important unions are to the economy. The study, “Union Decline Accounts for Much of the Rise in Wage Inequality,” published in the August issue of the “American Sociological Review,” says the decline in the percentage of workers who belong to unions is worsening income inequality and closely parallels the decline of the middle-class.

In fact, the decline of union membership explains about a fifth of the increase in wage inequality among women and about a third among men, says Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University and co-author of the study. According to Western:

Our study underscores the role of unions as an equalizing force in the labor market.

Even nonunion workers benefit from stronger unions as employers raise wages and increase employee benefits, says co-author Jake Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington:

For generations, unions have been the core institution advocating for more equitable wage distribution. Today, when unions—at least in the private sector—have largely disappeared, that means that this voice for equity has faded dramatically. People now have very different ideas about what’s acceptable in terms of pay distribution. Continue reading