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University, Union Decline to Object to Union Election

A sign directs students to voting places during Harvard's second unionization election April 18.
A sign directs students to voting places during Harvard's second unionization election April 18. By Amy Y. Li
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Neither Harvard nor the newly formed graduate student union have filed objections over the April 2018 unionization election within the seven-day period set by the National Labor Relations Board.

NLRB officials certified the results of the election Monday, after the deadline for appeals passed last Friday.

The unionization vote—which was the University’s second vote on the issue—took place April 18 and 19. The election saw 3,454 eligible student assistants weigh in on whether to unionize with Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers. The final tally, determined on April 20, fell in favor of unionizing with HGSU-UAW—56 percent of students who cast ballots voted to authorize the union to begin collectively bargaining with the University. Around 5,000 eligible graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants are included in the proposed bargaining unit.

The absence of objections for the April election contrasts with the aftermath of Harvard’s first unionization election, held in Nov. 2016. In the days immediately following that election, both HGSU-UAW and the University filed separate objections before the NLRB.

In their arguments, union attorneys took issue with the completeness of University-generated eligible voter lists after over 1,000 ballots were cast by students whose legal names were either absent from or substituted with preferred names on voter rolls. After two appeals, both the regional and national NLRB ruled that the lists did not meet agency standards and mandated the second election.

Union organizer Andrew B. Donnelly called the recent vote “smooth” both during and after the election. Several union organizers said in interviews last week that the union did not plan to file any objections and commended the University’s handling of election logistics.

University representatives have repeatedly declined to comment on whether Harvard plans to bargain with its newest union.

Donnelly wrote in an email that union organizers are “expecting the University to fulfill its commitment to bargain.”

“We’re taking [University spokesperson Anna G.] Cowenhoven at her word when she says, ‘Harvard appreciates student engagement on this important issue,’” Donnelly wrote, citing a statement from Cowenhoven to The Crimson immediately following the vote count.

In the days leading up to the election, members of the bargaining unit received a series of emails from administrators imploring them to familiarize themselves with unionization issues.

Since the vote count, the University has not sent any communications to students about the results of the election or the future of the union.

NLRB regional official Eugene M. Switzer and the NLRB Office of the Executive Secretary, which manages the docket of appeals and objections, could not be reached for comment.

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

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