Letter to the Editor: Lessons From First Unionization Election Must Be Acknowledged

Dear Editor,

I write in response to last week’s editorial, “A More Perfect Union Election,” to reaffirm the University’s commitment to advancing an open and transparent process as we look ahead to a second election on student unionization at Harvard.

On the list: Harvard has always been and continues to be committed to including all eligible student voters. A University team, across 11 schools and more than 50 degree programs, worked diligently to create the most accurate list possible prior to the November 2016 election. Despite their best efforts, many factors resulted in unintentional omissions, as described in the FAQs on the Office of the Provost website. It’s important to remember that this is new territory for Harvard and for the National Labor Relations Board, which conducted the first election. Harvard was the first private institution to hold an election following the change in law and similar issues related to voter lists have been raised at other private universities holding elections on unionization across the country.

On the November 2016 election: the University learned a lot and has taken steps to modify our processes in preparation for a second election. A clear lesson is that sufficient time is required to create the best possible list. Harvard has proposed a mid-March cut-off date for the voter list, when the majority of teaching and research appointments for the spring term will be finalized. The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers has countered with a mid-February date for the list cut-off—just after the add/drop deadline, when enrollments and teaching assignments are still in flux. We are continuing to discuss the schedule with the HGSU-UAW and the NLRB, and we hope they will agree that it is critically important that a comprehensive list be produced, to the best of our ability, so that the outcome of the second election will not be questioned on the basis of the completeness of the list.

And most importantly, on an open and informed discussion: as The Crimson rightly points out, there are a range of perspectives on the issue of whether student unionization makes sense here at Harvard. The University will continue to make information available on the Student Vote section of the Office of the Provost website, where links to a number of student-driven websites can be found, including the HGSU-UAW and Graduate Student Unionization: A Critical Approach websites and the Against HGSU-UAW Facebook page. The HGSU-UAW will also continue to have access to our community to share its perspective. In addition, we hope student leaders across Harvard’s schools will create opportunities on their campuses for discussions that consider all sides of this important issue. Harvard believes it is critically important that all eligible student voters consider the issues at stake, engage in a robust conversation about the potential impact of unionization, and, most importantly, cast informed votes.


Paul R. Curran is the Director of Labor and Employee Relations at Harvard University.


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