NLRB Calls for Re-Vote in Unionization Election

Unionization Vote
A posted sign directs voters to the polling place for the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW unionization vote in November 2016.
UPDATED: April 20, 2017 at 4:08 p.m.

A National Labor Relations Board official ruled Wednesday that Harvard had “not substantially complied with voter list requirements” in a November student unionization election, recommending that the University conduct another election to determine whether eligible students can form a union.

If a new vote count of the November election—which currently shows more students voting against unionization than for it, but remains too close to call—does not end in favor of Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers, Harvard must hold an additional election.

The NLRB report, issued by the hearing officer in the case, Thomas A. Miller,, is a recommendation. NLRB Regional Director John J. Walsh, Jr. will review Miller’s recommendation and reach a final decision about the election.

Under the NLRB’s rules, Harvard or the union could appeal Miller’s decision to Walsh. In a statement, Director of Employee and Labor Relations Paul R. Curran wrote that the University is reviewing the Hearing Officer’s report “to determine appropriate next steps.”

In an objection document filed with the NLRB in December, union organizers argued that Harvard did not provide complete lists of eligible voters in the election, skewing the results and requiring a re-vote. Miller decided in favor of the union in its decision.

“I find that the Employer has not complied with the voter list requirements,” the NLRB decision reads.

While more tallied ballots oppose unionization than favor it, some contested ballots have not yet been counted, and a re-vote may not be necessary. Of the thousands of votes counted so far, 185 more oppose unionization than support it. The NLRB will count an additional 195 ballots in the coming weeks.

Union organizers said they were excited about the NLRB’s reccomendation.

“We are thrilled that the NLRB recognized what we already knew—that Harvard did not comply with labor law, and that we deserve a new, fair, election,” Andrew B. Donnelly, a union organizer, wrote in a statement.

Harvard, meanwhile, maintained that it had conducted a fair election.

“The University believes strongly that the votes and voices of students should be respected and that the election results should stand,” Curran wrote in a statement. “Ordering a new election ignores the majority of students who voted against unionization and is unwarranted by the facts."

The decision marks the latest chapter in an election process that has lasted months. In November, eligible undergraduate teaching fellows and graduate teaching fellows and research assistants headed to the polls to vote in the historic election. But a December vote count was too close too call; the number of contested ballots was greated than the margin deciding the election.

Days after the vote count—which itself was delayed by almost a full month—both sides filed objections to the election with the NLRB. In its objection, HGSU-UAW argued lists of eligible voters circulated by Harvard were incomplete and made the election unfair.

Finally, in February, the two sides began an eleven-day hearing at the NLRB to discuss both the eligibility of the contested ballots and the merit of the objections to the election.

Some union organizers and graduate students said they were hopeful about winning a new election.

“I was excited that the NLRB agrees with the union that Harvard did not do enough to create a fair list,” Eben Lazarus, a union organizer, said. “I’m optimistic about the process of a revote.”

Some graduate students, though, said the NLRB’s decision was unfair.

Andrea Kriz, a vocal opponent of HGSU-UAW, said the NLRB’s decision was biased in favor of the union.

“I don't think it's reasonable that the election only be upheld if the union wins,” she wrote in an email. “If the election is invalid, why should the result matter at all? “

Jae Hyeon Lee, another vocal opponent of unionization, shared Kriz’s criticism of the NLRB’s decision.

“I hope the University appeals,” he wrote in an email.

Lee also said anti-union students would organize to persuade voters to oppose unionization if Harvard held a re-vote.

“At the moment, there isn't a concrete plan for another anti-union campaign if there is a re-vote,” he said. “But I am sure there will be one.”

Harvard is one of a small number of private universities with an active unionization effort. Graduate students at both Columbia and Yale have both made efforts to form a union.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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