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Mulling the pros and cons of installing a union at Harvard, eligible graduate and undergraduate students headed to the polls Wednesday on the first day of the University's second go at a unionization election.
The vote—set to end Thursday—will determine whether eligible students will establish a collective bargaining unit within the University. This election is Harvard’s second vote on the issue; the University also held an election in Nov. 2016. The results of that election saw a final tally of 1,526 votes cast against against unionization and 1,396 cast in favor.
In both elections, NLRB officials asked students to present identification once they entered polling stations. Officials then checked students' names against voter lists for each location.
If a voters’ name is absent from the list or otherwise inaccurate, the NLRB typically places that voter’s ballot under challenge. In that circumstance, the challenged ballot will be sealed and counted only after the voter’s eligibility is resolved.
During the first Nov. 2016 unionization election, around 1,000 ballots remained under challenge immediately after voting ended, in part due to discrepancies in the University-generated voter list. The validity of some of those ballots remained in question for over a year after polls closed as the University and the union deliberated in post-election hearings before the NLRB.
After three rulings by the regional and national chapters of the board and two separate appeals, the Board ultimately invalidated the first election’s result on the grounds that the voter list did not meet the agency’s requirements, thus mandating a second vote.
On Wednesday, voters lined up to cast their ballots at two locations: the Queen’s Head Pub in Cambridge and the Dental Research & Education Building at Harvard’s Longwood campus. Both polling sites will re-open Thursday. Some voters will also cast ballots at an additional Business School site slated to open Thursday morning.
During the last election, voting in Cambridge was held at Phillips Brooks House, leading some voters to complain of long lines. On Wednesday, the line at the Queen’s Head appeared to move at a steady clip throughout the day. Lines at the Longwood location remained minimal for much of the day.
Clad in attire ranging from sweatshirts to scrubs, many students said they took time off from a busy day of lab work and teaching to come out to vote. Some students approached the polling places with colleagues and pondered departmental goings-on while waiting in line.
Later in the day, the conversational topic of choice shifted—those waiting in line discussed going out for drinks after voting. Some noted ruefully that the Queen’s Head will be closed for business during the hours of the election.
Recent emails sent to eligible students from both HSGU-UAW and University officials also comprised a recurring topic of conversation among students milling around the polling sites. Ph.D. student Richard A. Childers said he thought the emails were unlikely to sway many voters, but also that he thought the missives came more frequently this time around than in the run-up to the first election.
“I think it kind of depends on how strongly people are in one camp or the other to begin with,” he said. “For those that are kind of in the middle... it is going to be kind of an open question until the union goes ahead and establishes itself or doesn’t.”
M. Asad Liaqat, who said he voted for unionization in this election and in the last election, said he hopes a union will give students more of a “voice in decision making.”
“A lot of the time, the power balance is against students,” Liaqat said. “So I felt, during my four years here, that we were often not in a position to state our concerns openly and having a union would enable us to do that.”
Medical school student John L. Pulice said that, though he supports labor unions and has been a member of a union before, he cast his ballot against unionization because he does not trust the way HGSU-UAW “has been represented and has conducted itself.”
“I have not been satisfied by the explanations provided by the union in terms of the actual concrete benefits they’d provide,” Pulice said. “I think it would actually deprive students of a lot of ways to communicate with the University and have the freedom to represent ourselves based on the different divisions.”
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