The Final Word on Unionization

The University and HGSU-UAW must both seek to avoid an appeal of the results of this April’s election

It has not been a good week for university unionization. Proponents of student unions at Yale, the University of Chicago, and Boston College have withdrawn petitions to the National Labor Relations Board that served as their best chance to unionize. There seems to be a political motivation here: The NLRB’s membership primarily consisted of pro-union appointees of then-President Barack Obama when it issued its 2016 decision allowing unionization at private universities. With President Donald Trump’s third appointee set for a hearing and confirmation early next month, organizers have expressed concern that bringing their cases to the NLRB would give the more conservative, majority-Trump-appointed board the opportunity to overturn the 2016 ruling.

At Harvard, however, the unionization effort remains fully underway and, so far, unaffected by the changed composition of the NLRB. After complaints about the first election’s validity, a second election has been called and set for April 18 and 19. We have long been in favor of giving eligible graduate and undergraduate students the right to a fair unionization election, and we hope that the one in mid-April serves this role. To that end, both the University and the students aiming to unionize—backed by the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers—must do everything in their power to make the election a procedurally clean one.

If the University or the HGSU-UAW finds fault in the proceedings of the election, they could each appeal to the NLRB, which would give the board a chance to overturn its precedent. This would be an illogical decision, as students at universities who engage in teaching and research and are compensated for it are indeed employed. Therefore, they should have a right to form a union, should they so choose. Pending the approval of Trump’s third nominee, the NLRB could jeopardize this right if given the chance to rule, so both Harvard and HGSU-UAW must proactively work to create an election that requires no NLRB intervention.

That being said, in the case of genuine, serious procedural misconduct on the part of either party, the other can and should exercise its right to appeal to the NLRB, despite the existential threat that doing so would pose to unionization across the country. However, any politically motivated appeals—arising from discontent with the April election’s results—would be doubly harmful because of the chance it would give the NLRB to readjudicate its 2016 decision. This sort of appeal is best avoided by both parties working together before the election to finalize and disseminate fair voter lists as well as determine and widely share when, where, and how to vote. This will not only avoid the procedural errors of the last election, but also encourage widespread participation.

While the University and the HSGU-UAW differ on whether they believe unionization would be productive, they both have publicly shared a belief that students have the right to a fair election. In successfully holding a vote that does not lead to an appeal, not only would they give students the ability to decide if they want to unionize, they would also avoid calling into question unionization at private universities itself. Unionization at Harvard has real advantages and real drawbacks, and we encourage eligible students to familiarize themselves with both and cast informed votes to decide unequivocally and ultimately in April whether or not the students at Harvard should unionize.


This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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