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Grad Union Petitions Harvard for More Bargaining Sessions

Harvard Graduate Students Union marked the launch of their historic bargaining sessions with the University in October 2018 by holding a "Bargainfest" celebration by the John Harvard statue.
Harvard Graduate Students Union marked the launch of their historic bargaining sessions with the University in October 2018 by holding a "Bargainfest" celebration by the John Harvard statue. By Joshua Y. Chiang
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Negotiators for Harvard’s graduate student union wrote in an email to their fellow members Tuesday that there is “a great deal of distance” between their bargaining proposals and the University’s — a gap they say only additional negotiations will bridge.

The email asked the union’s 5,000-plus members to sign a petition calling on administrators to schedule more half-day bargaining sessions. The email came on the heels of the union's third bargaining session with Harvard held this semester.

“We have become concerned that the administration’s slow approach to bargaining will jeopardize our ability to reach agreement on a fair contract in a timely manner,” the petition reads.

The union has offered the University 11 additional dates for sessions in January, according to the email.

HGSU-UAW entered negotiations with an ambitious list of goals totaling 80 items. In an earlier email updating union rank-and-file members, bargaining committee members reported that meeting those goals will likely be an uphill battle. Negotiators took issue with University counterproposals surrounding sexual harassment procedures, among other things.

The email and the accompanying petition both reference a host of goals including changes to Harvard’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The committee wrote that, while negotiations continue, the graduate and undergraduate students who voted to unionize last semester go without “fair, improved, and stable conditions.”

“Every day that goes by without an agreement is another day where student workers feel we lack fair recourse on sexual harassment or discrimination, lack job security, are often paid late, or only have access to prohibitively expensive dental insurance,” the petition reads.

The University’s current suggestion is that Harvard and HGSU-UAW’s bargaining teams meet every other week in sessions lasting around five hours until they reach an agreement, University spokesperson Melodie Jackson wrote in an email. Under that proposal, the two sides would meet separately on the off weeks to review proposals and collect feedback.

In an October email to students, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote that University administrators anticipate the negotiation process will be “time-consuming.”

Harvard is one of a small handful of private universities — including Brandeis University, Tufts University, New York University, and Columbia University — that have agreed to formally negotiate with their students. Other universities have pursued varying timelines when negotiating contracts.

At Brandeis, negotiations lasted around 10 months, while a 2015 NYU contract took 18 months. In a recent proposed framework for bargaining, Columbia estimated that contract negotiations would take 14 months. Harvard’s negotiation process could prove even more complicated due to the complexity and unprecedented size of the bargaining unit.

Until the University and the union ratify a contract, the graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants included in HGSU-UAW’s bargaining unit will not see the raises and benefits organizers have long sought in their five-year campaign to unionize — a fact HGSU-UAW highlighted in its petition.

Jackson wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard is “committed to engaging in a process that is efficient and thorough.”

“The work of negotiations is a mixture of time at the table and preparation for negotiations away from the table. It requires sufficient time to examine the impact of proposals and counter proposals and to obtain important feedback and ideas from our constituencies, which include our 12 schools,” she wrote. “The University is actively engaged in this work on a weekly basis but it is important to remember we are starting from scratch and care must be taken in drafting contractual language.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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