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Harvard Gears Up for Second Unionization Election

A posted sign directs voters to the polling place for the Nov. 2016 Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW unionization vote in Phillips Brooks House. Students will vote in a second unionization election this week.
A posted sign directs voters to the polling place for the Nov. 2016 Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW unionization vote in Phillips Brooks House. Students will vote in a second unionization election this week. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

With Harvard’s second unionization election set for Wednesday and Thursday, union organizers, University officials, and anti-union students are making final preparations for the vote, as well as a last push to reach eligible voters.

The election will determine whether over 4,000 eligible graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants will collectively bargain with the University.

This week’s vote will be Harvard’s second unionization election. The University also held an election in Nov. 2016, the results of which were subject to over a year of legal disputes between union organizers and the University before the National Labor Relations Board over the election’s validity. In subsequent rulings, the NLRB decided that the eligible voter list generated by the University did not meet the agency’s standards and ordered a second election.

Organizers for Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers say much of the next 48 hours will be business as usual.

Andrew B. Donnelly, an HGSU-UAW organizer, wrote in an email that organizers’ pitch to eligible voters remains the same. In the run-up to this election, organizers have often emphasized a proposed union’s ability to negotiate for increases in graduate students’ pay, protections against sexual harassment, and advocacy for international students.

“No change in plans: we're trying to talk to as many people as we can about how organizing a union will provide more stability in our pay, secure protections against mistreatment or sexual harassment, and provide a process by which we can collectively bargain and democratically approve a contract,” Donnelly wrote.

In the past several days, union organizers have canvassed campus dorms and dinings halls to solicit support for the effort. The union has also garnered several new endorsements from students groups and faculty.

LGBTQ@GSAS, a group for BGLTQ graduate students, released a statement supporting the union Monday afternoon. HGSU-UAW also published endorsements from Harvard professors Cornel R. West ’74 and Virginie Greene as well as MIT professor and author Junot Díaz in support of the effort to unionize.

Students opposed to unionization are also making final pushes, posting a draft email outlining arguments against the union on the Against HGSU-UAW Facebook page last Wednesday.

“If this union proposal passes, it will have unprecedented and permanent repercussions for Harvard graduate students. We believe that it would not confer a net-benefit on our grad student community,” the email reads.

Unionization opponents, who in the past have argued that the union has a disproportionate advantage in communicating with eligible voters, appeared in recent weeks to emulate some of the outreach strategies used by HGSU-UAW, such as creating a Facebook filter for their cause and asking students to participate in video testimonials.

In the past several days, University administrators have sent their own emails to eligible voters, informing students of the election and encouraging them to read up on the issues.

In an emailed statement, University spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote that the University is continuing to “focus on encouraging all eligible students to vote” in the final days of the run-up.

“This is an important decision that will impact current and future Harvard students,” Cowenhoven wrote. “It is critical that students make their voices heard by voting this week."

Polling places at the Queen’s Head Pub in Cambridge and Harvard Dental School in Longwood will be open for both days of the election. An additional location at Harvard Business School will be available Thursday morning.

At the polling places, an equal number of observers from the union and from the University will stationed to count and check ballots. They will also assist in identifying voters and, if need be, challenging ballots, according to the election notice released by the NLRB.

—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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