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Campus Unions, Local Labor Councils Endorse Grad Student Union

Graduate students involved in the unionization effort held a rally in front of the John Harvard statue last semester.
Graduate students involved in the unionization effort held a rally in front of the John Harvard statue last semester. By Ellis J. Yeo
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

A host of campus and local labor unions released a statement Monday morning in support of the graduate student unionization effort, urging eligible graduate and undergraduate students to vote in favor of collective bargaining in the upcoming April 18 and 19 election.

Signatories to the letter included Harvard’s four campus unions: the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers; the Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union; the 32BJ chapter of the Service Employees International Union; and UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents Harvard University Dining Services workers.

The letter was also sponsored by two Boston-area labor groups which represent construction and trade workers working at Harvard, the Area Trades Council and the Building and Trades Council of the Metropolitan District.

The upcoming April election follows a protracted legal battle before the National Labor Relations Board between the University and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers over the results of the an earlier Nov. 2016 unionization election.

At issue in that case was whether eligible voter lists provided by the University during the first election met the Board’s standards. After over a year of hearings and briefs before the regional and national NLRB, the Board ruled that the voter lists were inadequate, ordering a second election.

University staff assistant Emily Hankle was one of the HUCTW representatives involved in writing the support statement. She said HUCTW has been meeting with HGSU-UAW organizers for “some time,” though the latter group “led the effort” on curating the letter.

“We made a couple little tweaks here and there that put our voice on it as well. Then they passed it around to some of the other unions to make sure all the other unions were okay with it and came back to us and we said yes, we’d be happy to sign onto it,” Hankle said.

The authors of the letter wrote that HGSU-UAW’s success would bolster the efforts of all campus unions to effectively bargain with the University.

“We want to offer words of strong encouragement to students who support unions in general but are uncertain about working to build the HGSU-UAW union for themselves,” the letter reads. “Let’s be perfectly clear: the best way to support other unions and move working people forward is to create and strengthen your union. When one union wins, all unions win.”

The letter also states that the experience of other labor groups can “serve as a guide” for potential efforts by graduate students to negotiate for wages and benefits.

Graduate student and HGSU-UAW organizer Christine Mitchell wrote in an email that she is excited about the support from other labor groups.

"As a student who has worked closely with the other unions on campus, I have seen the efficacy and power of our solidarity in campaigns like the HUDS strike,” Mitchell wrote.

In an emailed statement in response to the letter, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven re-affirmed the University’s position on encouraging students to participate in the upcoming election.

“The University continues to encourage all eligible students to consider what unionization means for them academically, financially, and personally, and above all, to ensure that their voices are heard by going to the polls and voting on April 18 and 19,” Cowenhoven wrote.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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