The National Labor Relations Board will consider objections to Harvard’s student unionization election at a hearing Feb. 22 and deliberate over whether or not to call for a re-vote on the issue.
Graduate union student organizers filed an objection to the November election in December, arguing that the University did not provide complete and accurate lists of eligible voters for the vote. The University also filed a much more limited objection to the election.
The NLRB had already scheduled a hearing to discuss the election because of its close results. In an initial vote count, 1,272 voters supported unionization while 1,456 opposed it, while 314 ballots remain under challenge because of disputes about the voters’ eligibility.
Because the vote margin remains smaller than the number of challenged ballots, the election deciding whether undergraduate teaching assistants and graduate student research assistants and teaching assistants can form a union remains too close too call. The NLRB will discuss both the objections and the challenged ballots at the Feb. 22 hearing.
In an order announcing the hearing’s date and agenda, NLRB Regional Director John J. Walsh Jr. wrote that “the Challenged Ballots and Objections raise substantial and material factual issues that may be best resolved by hearing.”
If Walsh finds that the union organizers’ objections are valid, he could call for a re-vote.
In its objection, the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers argued the NLRB should not count the results of the election and should instead hold a re-vote.
The union organizers wrote that the lists of eligible voters that Harvard provided before the elections—referred to as Excelsior lists—were incomplete and contained students’ “preferred names” instead of legal names. The union charged that some students on the list were unable to vote because their legal names on their IDs did not match the names on voter lists.
The union contended that these flaws with the list of eligible voters warrant a re-vote.
“Because the Employer's failure to substantially comply with the Excelsior requirements could have affected the outcome of the election, the direction of a second election is warranted,” lawyers representing the union wrote.
While the objection filed by the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers takes issue with the conduct of the election more broadly, Harvard’s argument is more narrow. In its objection, Harvard contends that the NLRB improperly declared one ballot void because it contained a written note addressed to the vote counter.
“Because the voter’s intention was clear (having placed a large black “X” in the “No” box), the voided ballot should be counted in overall tally,” lawyers representing the University wrote.
For union organizers, the NLRB’s decision to consider the objections was encouraging.
“We’re thrilled to advance to the next step on the way to a fair, democratic election here at Harvard,” said Andrew Donnelly, a graduate student and union organizer. “We totally anticipate that the law is on our side here. Harvard made a completely defective list. We were anticipating this result and we’re thrilled to move onto the next step.”
Paul R. Curran, director of Labor and Employee Relations, wrote in a statement that Harvard’s lists were as accurate as possible.
“The University carefully, in good faith, and in cooperation with the HGSU-UAW produced a list of eligible voters based on the union’s description of the bargaining unit,” he wrote. “And, prior to the election, the University directly and immediately responded to union concerns about the list.”
Some graduate students who oppose unionization are calling on the NLRB not to conduct a re-vote. In a letter to Walsh, group of 14 graduate students defended the conduct of the November election. Jae Hyeon Lee, a graduate student who signed the letter, called the election “fair.”
“As Harvard admitted in resolving many of the challenged votes, [the Excelsior list] was not complete in the sense that it did not get every voter right, it did not include every possible eligible voter in the list, but I don’t think it’s a fair standard to judge whether the election was conducted fairly or not,” he said.
By the time the NRLB conducts its hearing later this month, it will have been more than three months since students first went to the polls.
— Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
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