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NLRB to Finalize Results of Harvard’s 2016 Unionization Election in January

The National Labor Relations Board's Boston regional office is housed in the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in Boston.
The National Labor Relations Board's Boston regional office is housed in the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Federal Building in Boston. By Megan M. Ross
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

The National Labor Relations Board will unseal and count the remaining 195 contested ballots from Harvard’s Nov. 2016 student unionization election in early January, paving the way for the University to hold a second election after more than a year of deadlock.

The NLRB will count the ballots on Jan. 4 at 10 a.m. in its Boston regional office in the Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Building, according to NLRB Region 1 field examiner Jarad Krantz and Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven.

The timeline update comes roughly two weeks after the NLRB reaffirmed its commitment to mandating a new unionization election at Harvard. At stake is whether or not eligible graduate student research and teaching assistants and undergraduate teaching assistants at Harvard will earn the right to collectively bargain with the University.

The provisional results of Harvard’s Nov. 2016 election saw more ballots cast against unionization than for it—1,457 against, compared to 1,272 in favor. In the wake of the election, lawyers for Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers charged that lists of eligible voters the University circulated before the election were inadequate, so the results should be deemed invalid and another election should be held.

The NLRB ultimately agreed with the HGSU-UAW, ruling Harvard must hold another election. The University later appealed that ruling, to no avail—the NLRB rejected that appeal earlier this month.

Now, the NLRB has swept away the last hurdle barring Harvard from holding a second unionization election: the ballots left over from the Nov. 2016 election. By NLRB procedure, the University cannot hold a second election until these remaining votes are unsealed and counted, provided the final tally does not already certify the union.

To change the 2016 result, the sealed ballots would have to break overwhelmingly in favor of unionization when they are counted. If the outcome remains the same once the challenged ballots are unsealed, the regional NLRB, the administration, and the HGSU-UAW will schedule a new vote.

University Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran sent an email to students last week updating them on the timeline for the recount and outlining the University’s plan going forward. If, “as expected,” the outcome remains against unionization, Harvard will collaborate with the NLRB and the HGSU-UAW on “next steps,” Curran wrote.

Specifically, Harvard will “again promote an open and informed conversation” about student unionization and will “encourage all eligible students to vote” in a second unionization election, Curran wrote.

He also reaffirmed administrators' official stance that the Nov. 2016 election was fair and its results valid.

“Because students voted in large numbers and were well-informed on the issues, the University maintained that the final result of the November 2016 election should stand,” Curran wrote.

Union representative and Harvard Ph.D. student Andrew B. Donnelly said he and other graduate students are thrilled by the scheduled unsealing and the possibility of a second unionization election in the near future.

“It's been 14 months since we petitioned for a fair election and the need for a union to stabilize pay and provide secure benefits and protections has grown,” Donnelly said. “We're very excited about the next steps toward a new, fair election.”

According to NLRB regulations, both Harvard and HGSU-UAW will have seven days to contest the final tally after the challenged ballots are counted.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at

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