Supporters and Opponents of Unionization Ramp Up Efforts as Vote Approaches

Students for and against unionization have escalated their organizing activity in preparation for the official vote on Wednesday and Thursday.

This week’s vote will decide whether or not the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers becomes the union representing thousands of teaching and research assistants across Harvard.

Unionization Polarization
Signs supporting and opposing the graduate students establishing a union are posted on the walls of the Maxwell Dworkin lobby Tuesday night. Wednesday marks the first day of voting on whether the graduate students will form a union.

HGSU-UAW organizers have increased their efforts in the past month by calling eligible students directly, sending emails, knocking on dorm room doors, and gauging student opinion in dining halls.

“We’ve been having thousands of conversations over the past week with grad workers all over Harvard,” HGSU-UAW organizer and Ph.D. student Abigail Weil said. “I think more than ever our supporters have been stepping up and showing their enthusiasm and dedication.”

The HGSU-UAW also has paid for sponsored advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, which pop up on students' social media feeds.


“We’re really trying to find as many means as possible for getting in touch with people, and so social media is a part of that,” HGSU-UAW organizer and Ph.D. student Aaron T. Bekemeyer said.

Some graduate students in the loosely organized “Against HGSU-UAW” group say they think it is unfair that the union effort has the backing of the United Auto Workers and has been actively organizing for much longer.

Some union organizers are paid $500 a week for 20 or more hours of work per week, according to the union effort's website.

Graduate student union organizer and Ph.D. student Avery A. Davis wrote in an email that UAW’s support has leveled the playing field with Harvard.

“Having the resources from the UAW to sustain our organizing campaign has been essential,” Davis wrote in the email.

However, Ph.D. student Jae Hyeon Lee, who created the “Against HGSU-UAW” Facebook page, sees the resource disparity as an “unfair advantage.”

“We basically have to do with what we have as individuals,” Lee said. “And all of us are busy so we don’t really have time to implement a large scale initiative like phone banking, that the UAW people have been doing.”

For students who are against the HGSU-UAW, Lee’s Facebook page—created just over two weeks ago—is the central hub of organizing and communication about anti-union activities.

“For me, practically the only means,” Lee said. “There are a lot more activities going on in the past few days, but there’s no central place where people report these activities, or strategize and things like that. There’s just a general sense that there’s more conversation and more activities among graduate students.”

Lee created a Google spreadsheet for students to record where posters have been placed. The locations include the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, graduate student dorms, Medical School buildings, Law School cafeteria, and the Science Center.

“I’m getting a constant stream of materials that people produce, forward to me, and then I just make them available on the Facebook page,” Lee said.

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