Grad Student Union Effort Joins With United Auto Workers

Members of a movement to unionize students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences have entered into an organized partnership with the United Auto Workers Union, according to representatives from both groups.

The UAW currently represents graduate student unions and movements at Columbia and New York University, and UAW Local 1596—the chapter with which the Harvard Graduate Student Union is working—has previously helped graduate student employees to unionize at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Lowell.

Though members of the movement declined to comment on when their partnership with the UAW officially began, the UAW was officially supporting the Harvard graduate student group by last Thursday. Members of Local 1596 were on campus that day helping the Harvard students recruit new members, according to Chris Nook, president of UAW Local 2324.

The union of Harvard graduate students, which first made public its intentions to unionize in April, must expand its membership to include a simple majority of GSAS students as part of the legal requirements to form a union. Even if they reach that threshold, however, the University is not legally bound to recognize a resultant union, according to a 2004 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

Massachusetts Hall
Massachusetts Hall.

University President Drew G. Faust echoed the sentiments of the 2004 ruling in a May interview, stating her opposition to graduate student unionization and saying that a union would change “a mentoring relationship between faculty and students into a labor relationship” and that such a relationship would not be “appropriate.”

Still, members of the movement remain hopeful.

“We join with the tens of thousands of grad employees across the country in one international union,” said Jack Nicoludis, a spokesperson for the Harvard graduate student unionization effort. “Being part of an international union means we are able to effectively build our union here at Harvard.”

And with the help of UAW, the group has started gathering signatures of support on cards that count as individual pledges as they attempt to reach the 50 percent, plus one, minimum, Nicoludis said.

Members of the Harvard unionization movement are also hoping that the NLRB will reverse the 2004 decision that now allows the University to refuse to recognize graduate student unions. The NLRB heard a case from members of a similar movement at Columbia in March and could rule in favor of the graduate students in that case.

—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jillsteinman.