Two Years, Two Votes: Harvard Student Workers Go to Polls in Strike Authorization Vote
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Graduate students across the University will begin voting Tuesday whether to authorize a student worker strike, marking an escalation in the negotiation process that began exactly one year ago.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ bargaining committee announced their plans to hold a strike authorization vote Oct. 8 as major contractual issues — including compensation, healthcare, and harassment and discrimination protections — remain unresolved.
“This is our chance to make our voices heard loud and clear to the administration, and to declare forcefully that the Administration must move on our key issues we care most about and negotiate the contract we deserve,” the bargaining committee wrote in an email to its members Friday.
Successful strike authorization would not immediately trigger a strike, but rather would permit the bargaining committee to call for a strike when it sees fit.
Voting will begin Tuesday at 8 a.m. in Wasserstein Hall at the Law School. It will continue throughout the week in 21 locations across Harvard’s Cambridge and Longwood campuses, as well as the Broad and Ragon Institutes on MIT’s campus, according to the union’s email. Voters will fill out a secret paper ballot.
The email lists voting times through Friday, but more times may be announced as voting proceeds, according to bargaining committee member Ege Yumusak ’16.
All student workers who have signed a union card will be eligible to vote, and union cards will be available to sign at the polls, the email said. Student workers include former and current workers, as well as those who “expect to be employed by the university.”
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain reiterated the University’s position that the strike authorization is “unwarranted” in an emailed statement Tuesday.
“The University continues to approach these negotiations in good faith and has offered substantive proposals that address the concerns raised by HGSU-UAW throughout these negotiations,” Swain wrote.
In order to pass, the vote needs affirmation from a two-thirds majority of those voting — not the entire bargaining unit — based on rules set out in the UAW Constitution.
Beverley Brakeman, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes most of the Northeast, wrote in an email that this rule sets a higher standard for passage of a strike authorization than most other union decisions.
“Unlike other internal votes in the UAW, which are decided by a simple majority of those voting, strike votes have a higher bar,” she wrote.
The vote will be overseen by HGSU’s elections committee, which previously ran the union’s bargaining committee election in June 2018, and last month appointed two new bargaining committee members by acclamation.
Ahead of the vote, the bargaining committee emailed union members imploring its general membership to authorize a strike, but acknowledged that it was each worker’s own choice.
“How to vote is an individual choice for each member,” the bargaining committee wrote in its email. “We, your bargaining committee, recommend voting in favor of a strike authorization.”
Brakeman wrote that while UAW will provide assistance running the vote, the HGSU-UAW elections committee will be in charge of the “process and final ballot count.”
“As with all other phases of the organizing and bargaining campaign, experienced UAW representatives will provide support, guidance and coordination to help ensure the process goes smoothly,” she wrote.
Several organizations across campus offered their support to the strike authorization effort ahead of polls opening Tuesday.
Our Harvard Can Do Better, an undergraduate anti-sexual assault advocacy organization, issued a statement Oct. 9 calling on eligible students to affirm the strike authorization.
“A strike shouldn’t be necessary for students to have the power and care they deserve,” the statement reads. “But we need what our union can give us, and we are willing to fight for it.”
On Friday, the Harvard Law School Student Government also passed a resolution that "encourages HLS student workers to vote YES in the Harvard Graduate Students Union Strike Authorization Vote."
The union’s proposal that its members should be able to pursue sexual harassment and discrimination complaints through a third-party grievance procedure, however, has emerged as a sticking point. The University has rejected the union’s proposal, maintaining that student workers should pursue complaints through the University’s internal procedures. This dispute has prompted a protest, a sit-in at University Hall by union members, and an advertising campaign on prime-time national television.
In addition, provisions on wages and healthcare benefits remain on the table. The union’s initial economic proposals would have doubled expenditures for each graduate student, University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates in April. The union, however, has disputed that characterization, and called the University’s proposed economic package a “net loss for student workers.”
HGSU first threatened to organize for a strike authorization vote in an open letter addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow in July. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Oct. 17, bargaining committee member Lee Kennedy-Shaffer wrote in an email last week.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
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