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University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 defended the Harvard’s decision to appeal a National Labor Relations Board ruling in an email sent to students Thursday, arguing that Harvard facilitated a fair unionization election last fall.
Harvard’s appeal, filed in August, challenges a previous NLRB ruling that said there should be a new unionization election because the list of eligible voters generated by Harvard before the initial Nov. 2016 vote was inadequate. The provisional tally after that election showed more voters opposed Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers than supported it.
With this appeal, Harvard seeks a ruling from the federal NLRB, a five-person board of presidential appointees that decides labor disputes. Some legal experts have speculated that the board’s now-Republican majority could side with Harvard and rule against another election.
In his email, Garber argued that Harvard’s voter list was accurate and complete.
“The University’s goal was always to include all eligible voters on the list,” he wrote. “A University team worked diligently to create the most accurate list possible despite challenging conditions: a University-wide bargaining unit; a tight deadline set by the HGSU-UAW and the NLRB; and information systems that were not designed for this purpose.”
Garber also argued that high voter turnout in the Nov. 2016 unionization election indicated that students were well-informed about the vote.
“Paid and volunteer organizers for the HGSU-UAW had unfettered access to students across our physical campus and through e-mail, social media, and other communications channels for some 18 months,” he wrote. “Students were well-informed, voted in large numbers, and, according to the initial vote count, voted against forming a union.”
Garber’s unionization message drew sharp criticism from union organizers.
Andy Donnelly, a union organizer and graduate student, argued that Garber’s reference to “a tight deadline set by the HGSU-UAW and the NLRB” is misleading, citing the fact that both Harvard and the unionization effort signed an election agreement in Oct. 2016 set the date of the election.
FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven and GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall declined to respond to Donnelly’s comments.
Donnelly also argued that the University’s appeal runs contrary to current labor law, which states that employers have to generate an adequate voter list—a responsibility which, according to him, Harvard did not fulfill.
“Since they can't win on the facts, Harvard’s trying to change the law,” Donnelly said.
Harvard administrators disagree.
“The University believes strongly that the November 2016 election results, which reflect the votes and voices of the majority of eligible voters, should stand,” Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an August email to students announcing Harvard’s intent to appeal.
Garber’s message comes six days before a rally that HGSU-UAW plans to hold to protest Harvard’s decision to appeal.
The federal NLRB, like the Supreme Court, does not rule on every case before it—the board could choose not to take Harvard’s case.
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
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