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Council Votes To ‘Support’ Students Involved in Union Effort

UPDATED: November 5, 2015, at 10:57 p.m.

After a divided discussion on Wednesday, the Graduate Student Council ultimately voted to stand in support of Harvard graduate students involved in an effort to unionize.

The unionization effort, which first went public in April, heard some of its first signs of public student opposition at a Graduate Student Council meeting last month, although University President Drew G. Faust has been a vocal opponent of the student unionization movement for several months.

But despite that pushback, the student movement is gaining steam; organizers have made a website and partnered with the United Auto Workers Union to solicit prospective members as their counterparts at peer institutions undergo similar efforts. While Harvard administrators say a union of graduate students would alter the relationship between professors and their students, student organizers maintain that it would allow them to use collective bargaining in negotiations.

Graduate Student Council Meeting
At the meeting of the Graduate Student Council, students discussed and voted on a number of measures, including an activities fee and whether to support graduate students part of a movement to unionize.
On Wednesday, the graduate student government body approved a resolution, 38 to 4, asserting that the work of the Harvard Graduate Students Union—what student organizers are calling the effort—is “complementary to the role of the Graduate Student Council.”

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The resolution passed after the Council waited to vote on an earlier draft after its October meeting, per regular procedure.

During Wednesday’s hour-long debate over the resolution, Dawn M. Graninger, a graduate student in Astronomy and the student government at-large representative for the natural sciences, proposed an amendment to alter the resolution’s wording in support of members of the Graduate Students Union, instead of the movement at large.

Graninger’s amendment, which was adopted into the final language, says the student government “stands in support of graduate student workers of HGSU-UAW,” but not the unionization movement itself.

The room of Council members and other graduate students was split on the issue, voicing both praise and criticism of the resolution. Students in favor of supporting the unionization effort and its members said they saw significant support for the movement throughout their respective departments.

“I think that all of us who have… joined already in the union effort would really appreciate this kind of statement of support from the GSC,” said Ellora A. Derenoncourt, a graduate student in the Economics department.

Some students in opposition of the resolution, meanwhile, argued that voting on it immediately would be premature, suggesting that they needed more time to fully understand the unionization effort.

Marissa E. Grunes, a graduate student in the English department, said the decision to sign a union card—used by unionization movement organizers to gather support, is not a whole-hearted symbol of approval of a potential union.

“I’ve spoken to people in my department who have signed the cards and who continue to have reservations,” she said. “There is a large population of people who are not sure.”

The Council’s representatives from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who said at the meeting that their constituents at SEAS needed more time to understand the unionization proposal before voting on the resolution, moved to postpone a formal vote until February.

But both this motion and one to postpone the vote until December failed in two votes, both with 14 in favor and 23 opposed.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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