Supporters of Harvard’s student unionization effort held a rally in the Yard and delivered a petition to Massachusetts Hall Wednesday, urging the University to drop its appeal to the federal National Labor Relations Board.
The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers’ rally, held on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s election, accused Harvard of relying on the majority-Republican NLRB to stack the deck against the union effort.
“It is not okay to use the Trump administration appointments to the labor board to roll back workers’ rights everywhere,” graduate student and union organizer Niharika N. Singh said in a speech at the rally. “It is not okay to deny your student-workers the right to a fair, democratic process.”
Union supporters rallied on the same day as U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders penned a letter urging University President Drew G. Faust to support student unionization.
“I urge you to support the legal rights of research and teaching assistants at your university to form unions and bargain in good faith with them,” Sanders wrote. “After all, these workers are key to the success of your university.”
In July, an NLRB official ruled that Harvard had not provided an adequate list of eligible voters ahead of the November 2016 unionization election. By law, employers must distribute a list of all workers who are eligible to vote before union elections.
Weeks later, Harvard appealed that ruling to the five-person NLRB, labor law’s highest ruling body. Trump recently appointed two new Republican members and the board now has a conservative majority. It is unclear whether the board will decide to hear the case and, if so, when it will release its decision.
Harvard administrators have argued that the University is not trying to skirt labor law, instead holding that the original election was valid.
“Students were well-informed, voted in large numbers, and, according to the initial vote count, voted against forming a union,” FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement. “The University believes that the November 2016 election results, which reflect the votes and voices of well-informed students, should stand, and has appealed the Regional Director’s decision to the contrary.”
Abhinav Reddy, an organizer for HGSU-UAW, said he supports the unionization effort because students might not be able to “count on administrators here to look out for the best interests of me and my peers.”
He said that, as an alum, he is disappointed that Harvard appealed to the federal NLRB.
“It appals us to see my university’s name in the news, seeing them try to union bust, seeing them try to get in the way of democratic processes all across the country,” Reddy said.
Harvard has argued that the decision to appeal does not deny voters’ democratic rights.
“Harvard students voted in large numbers, and they voted against unionization, a fact that the HGSU-UAW does not acknowledge,” the Provost’s website reads. “To drop the appeal and agree to a second election would be to ignore the votes and voices of the majority of eligible voters that were expressed through this election process. Harvard believes their votes should be respected and be allowed to stand.”
A group of faculty members also voiced their support for HGSU-UAW. Kennedy School professor Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 said he thought many faculty members support the union.
“We understand how hard graduate students work, how much graduate students teach, how vulnerable graduate students are,” McCarthy said. He added that the question of student unionization was a “no-brainer” because workers have a right to unionize.
An estimated 275 people gathered for the protest, according to graduate student and union organizer Andy Donnelly. Members of other advocacy groups, including the undergraduate Student Labor Action Movement, also spoke at the event.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 15, 2017
A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that Abhinav Reddy attended the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.