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UC Supports Grad Union Strike Authorization Vote

Undergraduate Council President Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Vice President Julia M. Huesa '20 lead a March 2018 UC meeting.
Undergraduate Council President Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Vice President Julia M. Huesa '20 lead a March 2018 UC meeting. By Amanda Y. Su
By Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

The Undergraduate Council endorsed the graduate student union’s strike authorization vote and other initiatives at its Monday afternoon meeting.

The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers announced last week that it would hold a strike authorization vote. If two-thirds of voting members approve the use of a strike, the union’s bargaining committee would have the power to call for a strike whenever it deemed necessary. Voting for the strike authorization begins Tuesday, Oct. 15, which marks the one-year anniversary of the first bargaining session between Harvard and the union.

HGSU is calling for the vote to win favorable pay, healthcare, and discrimination and sexual harrassment protections in its contract, according to Ria Modak ’22, an organizer for HGSU who spoke at the council’s meeting.

In the event of a strike, participating student workers would not grade assignments or hold sections and office hours, Modak said.

UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 and Kirkland House representative Ajay V. Singh ’21 sponsored the legislation to support the strike authorization vote.

“The Undergraduate Council is endorsing HGSU-UAW’s strike authorization vote because we know that student workers make this university work,” the council’s statement reads.

The University has advised faculty members to prepare for a potential strike. Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote that the University does not believe that the union’s calls for a strike have merit.

“The University believes that calls for a strike are unwarranted,” he wrote. “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.”

The union first threatened to call a strike authorization vote in a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow in July. The letter cited stalemates in issues like sexual harassment and nondiscrimination, and healthcare. Since the union first started bargaining with Harvard in October 2018, the two parties have reached eight tentative agreements.

Some council representatives at Monday’s meeting said they support the strike authorization vote because the issue involves their constituents; roughly 400 undergraduates are employed as course assistants by the University and are therefore represented by HGSU.

“I think it’s important that we take a stand for the people that teach us and also for our fellow students,” Kirkland House representative Madison A. Trice ’21 said.

Others disagreed with endorsing the vote and argued that a strike by teaching staff would be detrimental to the learning of undergraduates, the majority of whom do not serve as course assistants.

“What about the 6,500 Harvard students who are not going to have their section this week and not have their office hours should the strike take place?” Adams House representative A. Blake Barclay ’22 said. “Our job is to represent the majority interest of our student body as College students.”

The UC also voted to fund other initiatives at its meeting. The UC officially established a Public Service Travel Grant, an initiative that Huesa and UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 planned over the summer; the program will provide money for seniors to travel to interviews for careers in public service. The Center for Public Interest Careers, the Institute of Politics, and the Office of Career Services — which will administer the grant — will contribute a combined $20,000 in funding. The UC will contribute an additional $2,000.

The UC also discussed partnerships with two external companies during its Monday meeting. The council formally decided to partner with UmbraCity to pilot an umbrella sharing service on campus for a semester, and they signed a non-binding letter of intent to pursue a partnership with Starship Technologies to bring automated food delivery robots to campus.

The UC also funded “office hours” for freshmen to meet with their UC representative, along with a challenge at HackHarvard, an event for programmers to create projects in teams, to create a platform that helps students form study groups.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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