Today and tomorrow, I and other Harvard students in teaching and research positions will vote on whether we want the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers to represent us. Are we ready? Does making this decision seem daunting to you as you navigate exams and papers in the middle of the semester? Completely black-and-white after being bombarded with pro-union arguments for the past year? Have you simply not had time to think about the process in depth? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, I argue that you should vote "no" to the HGSU-UAW—whether you support graduate student unionization or not.
We simply have not had enough time to discuss the pros and cons of having a union at Harvard. Up until Nov. 8, much of the student body (along with the rest of America) was focused on the presidential election, leaving us only a week to learn about the unionization process. The situation for early year graduate students, who are still taking classes, is especially bad. Many classes have exams or large assignments due in early or mid-November. I and many other second year students in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program had our thesis proposal rough draft due last week, for example. First-year graduate students are also still adjusting to their first semester of graduate school and rotating while dealing with their course loads. These issues are only worsened by the lack of absentee ballots for the union election; students who are not on campus or who cannot travel to one of the polling locations today or tomorrow simply cannot vote. What are students flying home early for Thanksgiving or who do not work near Longwood or Harvard Yard to do?
Union representatives argue that any election date would have its inconveniences—but some dates are much more inconvenient than others. This is one of them. In contrast, holding the election early in the spring semester would have given students time to learn about the unionization process over winter break, while avoiding exams and assignment deadlines before the holidays. The extra time would also have given both pro- and anti-union sides the opportunity to fight for more accessible voting locations and an absentee ballot system. Unfortunately, the union election cannot be postponed at this point; the best way to show union representatives that you have doubts about the election process is to vote "no" today or tomorrow and open the conversation. Even if the issues outlined above do not affect you personally, consider voting "no" to help early year graduate students—who would be most affected by a union—in these situations. A "no" vote does not necessarily mean you outright reject all forms of graduate student unionization at Harvard. However, in all cases, it will provide the time necessary to discuss how an election for such a union could be run in a fairer, unbiased way.
In contrast, if the majority of students vote "yes," reversing the unionization process is almost impossible. Union representatives argue that there is no "downside" to forming a union. In fact, there are many potential disadvantages to forming a union. The aim of this piece is not to argue either for or against forming a union, though points against the union have been outlined by other students elsewhere. In addition, many students have also shared personal testimonials about how they have been negatively impacted by the HGSU-UAW and unions at other universities on the Against HGSU-UAW Facebook page.
Union representatives argue that they would never allow such things to happen at Harvard. But what steps has the HGSU-UAW taken to safeguard against these possibilities? What about the students who already feel pressured by union organizers, pitted against their peers, excluded, or discriminated against? The upcoming union election does not take the wishes of separate departments into account—the majority of students in my program, BBS, could vote "no" and still be voted into the union if the majority of students in other programs vote "yes," for example. Would contract votes, which decide stipends and benefits for all graduate students, or votes to strike, be held in the same way? The answers to these questions are vital towards making an informed decision on how to vote. The fact that union representatives have not taken the time to consider and publicize the answers to these issues should be reason enough for students to vote "no." Putting the brakes on the unionization process would enable both students and the union itself to consider these issues more closely.
Ask yourselves: What is the downside to having more time to discuss unionization? Even union representatives would agree that everyone should be fully informed before this decision is made, given its importance. Even if you support the HGSU-UAW, do you want the union to be formed when many students have not had time to make an informed decision? Casting a "yes" vote means that the union will be formed right now, without taking these concerns into account. By casting a "no" vote, you will help overwhelmed graduate students have their voices be heard—and pave the way towards having a thoughtful, balanced discussion about unionization.
Andrea Kriz is a second year Ph.D. student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program.