Leaders of a group of Harvard graduate students seeking to unionize made a pitch for new members at the first Graduate Student Council meeting of the school year on Wednesday evening.
This pitch comes after Jeff Neal, a University spokesperson, wrote in an email Tuesday that University President Drew G. Faust stands by her opposition of the union, a stance that she first discussed with The Crimson in May, not long after a group of graduate made public their movement to unionize.
Christina V. Groeger ’08, a graduate student in the History Department, and William E. Baldwin, a graduate student in the English Department, told the packed room that Faust’s stance will not slow their efforts to organize.
Faust's statement, Baldwin said, "is not a surprise."
"I don’t think that changes anything, actually,” Baldwin said, adding that “as nice as it would have been," the group had "no illusion" that Faust would come out in support of the movement.
John Gee, a graduate student in the History Department, said the ultimate goal for organizing the union is to gather a large enough base of support to potentially force the University to engage in a conversation.
“The next step is just growing membership, because the University doesn’t want to recognize the union in principle, which Drew Faust said she didn’t want to do,” he said. “Then the step is to get membership and say, you know, a majority of graduate students support a union and the University needs to recognize that.”
As the vice president of the Graduate Student Council, Gee said he is committed to keeping other graduate students informed about the unionization effort.
“We want to make sure we have that conversation and graduate students know what is going on,” he said.
Groeger and Baldwin also spoke at the meeting about some of the substantive benefits they argued a union could achieve if recognized by Harvard.
“People want dental insurance. That is a common thing that they do not offer grad students. They want healthcare, childcare, parental leave, a grievance procedure so you can’t just get fired from your lab,” Groeger said.
Groeger also pointed to what has historically been a sore spot specifically among the graduate students at Harvard: insecurity surrounding shopping week and sectioning.
“The craziness of shopping period does not exist at other universities that have unions. If you expect to teach a course, you are going to teach that course in the fall or they will pay you money,” she said.
—Staff writer Jill E. Steinman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jillsteinman.