Harvard Moves to Dismiss Objection to Unionization Election

Harvard disputed union organizers’ concerns about a November student unionization vote in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board Tuesday, arguing that the University provided accurate lists of eligible voters in the election.

The Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building
The National Labor Relations Board's Boston regional office is housed in the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in Boston.
Last month, student union organizers argued in an objection filed with the NLRB that voter lists provided by the University for the election may have prevented eligible students from participating. The result of that vote—which remains too close to call—could decide whether the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers will represent undergraduate teaching assistants and graduate student research and teaching assistants in collective bargaining negotiations.

The union effort organizers charge that the November election, which currently indicates that more students oppose unionization than support it, should be invalidated and are calling for a re-vote. The NLRB will decide whether to consider the union effort’s objections and the University’s response prior to Feb. 21, according to NLRB deputy regional attorney Robert P. Redbord.

In its motion to dismiss the union’s objection, the University asserted that it had generated a list of eligible voters—known as an Excelsior list—that was accurate. Harvard not only provided a list of the students who were on the University’s centralized payroll, but also searched for eligible non-payroll students, the filing argues.

“There was and is no way for Harvard to have generated a materially better or more ‘accurate’ Excelsior list than the list that was created for this election,” the University’s response reads. “Harvard engaged in every good faith effort to produce an Excelsior list that identified all students employed in teaching and research positions.”


The University also argued that union organizers did not file “substantial” objections to the voter list until after the election and charged there was no evidence that the voter lists had affected the election’s outcome.

The University’s filing is the latest development in a months-long election process characterized by disputes about voter eligibility. During the election, more than 1,200 ballots were challenged; more than 300 of these ballots are still under challenge, leaving the election results up in the air. The NLRB will hold a hearing on Feb. 21 to decide which of the challenged ballots should be counted.

Union organizer Abhinav Reddy disputed the University’s claim that HGSU-UAW had not notified the University of alleged problems with the voter list prior to the election.

“The HGSU-UAW has notified the administration several times of multiple inaccuracies within the voter list and it’s ultimately the responsibility of the administration to provide accurate lists, being the employer here,” he said.

Reddy also disagreed with Harvard’s argument that the voter list had no impact on the election. He pointed to the addition of challenged ballots to the eligible voter lists as a reason the University’s initial list was incomplete.

“We’ve seen that the administration’s lists were incomplete and we’re missing hundreds—I want to stress this—hundreds of eligible voters,” he said. “Even during the NLRB post-election challenge process, the administration acknowledged that hundreds of challenged ballots...should have been counted because they were eligible individuals.”

Reddy declined to comment on whether the unionization effort would file a response to Harvard’s most recent document.

If NLRB decides to move forward with the union effort’s objections, it would consolidate discussions on the objection with the Feb. 21 hearing on challenged ballots, according to Redbord. The University has also filed its own, separate objection about a single ballot that could be considered at the same hearing.

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

—Staff writer Phelan Yu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @phelanyu.