Student Union Organizers, Harvard Object To Unionization Vote

UPDATED: December 30, 2016 at 6:32 p.m.

Harvard student union organizers filed an objection Thursday to a November election that could determine whether or not eligible students can form a union, arguing that the University may have prevented eligible voters from participating.

Further complicating an election process marred by a delayed and initially inconclusive vote count, the objection filing charges that the voter list the University provided for the election may have excluded hundreds of eligible voters, according to a post on the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers’ Facebook page. The objection could ultimately prompt a new vote on whether or not eligible students at Harvard can unionize.

Unionization Vote
A posted sign directs voters to the polling place for the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW unionization vote in Phillips Brooks House last month.
Harvard has also filed an objection to the election, albeit one very different in scope. The University’s filing focuses on a single vote that was not counted because the voter wrote on the ballot, according to Harvard spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven. The University contends that the NLRB should count the vote.

The NLRB will conduct hearings on the objections next month, and could call for a revote in an election whose results have already been delayed due to questions of voter eligibility. William B. Gould, a Stanford Law professor who was the chair of the NLRB from 1994 to 1998, wrote in an email that “the goal of objections is to get the election set aside and this will generally mean a new election.”


The objections come after an initial vote count in the unionization election, held Nov. 16 and 17, indicated that more eligible students had voted against unionization than in support of it, with 1,456 opposing votes and 1,272 in support. But because the number of ballots under challenge remains greater than the margin of votes deciding the election, the election remains too close to call and the NLRB will hold hearings to determine the eligibility of those ballots.

The union organizers charge that Harvard’s decision to list “preferred names”—as opposed to full legal names printed on IDs—meant that the printed names did not always match the names on the lists of eligible voters, preventing certain students from casting votes.

“As many saw at the polls during the election, Harvard failed to provide an accurate list,” organizers wrote in a post on the union effort’s Facebook page. “Hundreds of student workers were left off the eligible voter list provided by the employer to the NLRB in advance of the election, leading to confusion about who was eligible to vote.”

Responding to the union organizers’ objection, Cowenhoven wrote in a statement the union’s challenge was not “surprising” because a majority of the votes that have been counted were against student unionization.

“The University and the HGSU-UAW reached an election agreement to define the eligible voters prior to the vote, and the University worked diligently to develop that voter list,” she wrote. “Our shared goal was and is to count every eligible vote.”

Union organizers’ concerns about the list of eligible voters are not new. Union organizers have previously said they alerted Harvard to naming issues with the voter list before the election, although a University administrator stated that Harvard learned of the issue on the first day of the election.

Robert P. Redbord, Boston’s Deputy Regional Attorney for the NLRB, could not be reached for comment.

Disagreements about voter eligibility have already delayed the results of the election for weeks. During the election, about 1,200 ballots were challenged, and the parties spent weeks sifting through roughly 900 of the challenged ballots. But 314 ballots remain under challenge, and the NLRB will conduct hearings to determine the voters’ eligibility.

Both Harvard and the union organizers filed their objections seven days after the vote count, the last day possible under NLRB procedures.

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