University to Give Thousands of Students’ Information to Labor Board

The University notified thousands of students eligible to vote in the coming union election that some of their personal information will be given to the National Labor Relations Board and to the graduate student union effort, in accordance with NLRB rules.

In an email to student teaching and research assistants, Office of Labor and Employee Relations Director Paul R. Curran wrote that the University is “required” to provide names, current employment positions, the school or department in which a student works, and contact information such as mailing address, email address, and phone number to both parties.

Union Block Party
Graduate student union supporters gather in the Science Center Plaza in April for a “Union Block Party,” hosted by Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW.

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers reached an agreement with University officials last week regarding where and when to hold the election, in which students will vote “yes” or “no” on whether they wish to be represented by the union for the purposes of collective bargaining.

The parties also agreed on which students would be included in the potential bargaining unit: graduate and undergraduate teaching fellows, including teaching and course assistants, as well as graduate student research assistants.

“Our records indicate that you currently hold one of those positions, which means that you will be eligible to cast a vote in the election,” Curran wrote. “If a majority of those voting choose to be represented by the union, you would be included in the bargaining unit with your terms of employment subject to union negotiation.”

In any unionization election, the NLRB requires an employer “to supply, on request, information that is ‘relevant and necessary’ to allow the employees’ representative to bargain intelligently and effectively with respect to wages, hours, and other conditions of employment,” according to the Board’s website.

“Obtaining a list of voters and making contact information available is a normal part of the NLRB process. This list of voters allows us to ensure that our union democratically represents the interests of all student workers,” HGSU-UAW spokesperson and Ph.D. student Jack M. Nicoludis wrote in an email.

Curran wrote that the NLRB issued a subpoena to the University outlining which information it required, and that the University notified students in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. He added that the information will be given to the NLRB “on or about” Oct. 28, and to the HGSU-UAW “shortly thereafter.”

“You have the right to object to the subpoena and release of your personal information. If you want to object, it is not sufficient to notify Harvard,” Curran wrote, adding that students must direct objections to the NLRB.

Shira Li ’19, an undergraduate course assistant, said she plans to call the NLRB tomorrow to see how much effort it will take to withhold her information.

“I would be okay with it either way, but if possible I would prefer not to give out that information,” Li said. “I was okay with the information about me being a [course assistant] and my name, but I was mostly concerned about, like, address and phone number, that kind of stuff being given out.”

Ph.D. student Holly M. Dykstra, who is not involved in the union effort, said she did not have an issue with her information being shared to the NLRB and union effort.

“I didn’t know how the details about this worked and how they would know who’s a worker beforehand, but this seems pretty benign,” Dykstra said.

Undergraduates also received an email from Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris. He wrote that his remarks were a follow-up to Curran’s email, “which, I imagine, may have come as a surprise to you.”

“My primary purpose in following up on this message is to impress upon you the importance of engaging with this process, which may well have a significant impact on you, the College, and the University,” Harris wrote. “Please take the time to educate yourselves about the issues and to reflect on the impact of different possible outcomes.”

Harris then directed students to the Provost’s Office “Know before the Vote” website, and the HGSU-UAW website—linking to both sites in the email.

Responding to Harris’ decision to link to both websites, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven said, “The University continues to encourage a robust and open discussion true to Harvard’s tradition and practice of welcoming diverse views in an environment where all have an opportunity to be heard.”

Dykstra said she appreciates receiving information from the University and from the union effort. She signed up for the HGSU-UAW’s email list, and received an email when the group filed a petition to the NLRB on Oct. 18 to move forward with the election process.

“I also have a sense that students that haven’t been involved in the union—who are people I’ve talked to—want more information now, and there are still some questions that people feel like haven’t been answered,” Dykstra said.

The union election will be held Nov. 16 and 17.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at leah.yared@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

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