Two Years, Two Votes: Harvard Student Workers Go to Polls in Strike Authorization Vote
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Harvard and its graduate student union tentatively agreed on two new contract provisions Thursday in the first bargaining session since union members began voting on whether to authorize a strike over a lack of progress in negotiations.
The two sides came to a consensus on a provision regarding international student rights, as well as one on workspaces and materials. Meanwhile, the union will keep polls open for its strike authorization vote at least into next week, according to bargaining committee member Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers bargaining committee member Ege Yumusak ’16 wrote in an email that the new international students agreement will “set standards” for graduate student union contracts at other universities.
“The tentative agreement we reached today will do much to advance immigrant and international student workers’ rights on campus,” Yumusak wrote. “We are committed to continuing to fight for immigrant justice.”
International student workers will be allowed five days off to work through visa issues under the tentative agreement, according to Yumusak. It also guarantees that immigration attorneys will visit campus each semester, and that student workers denied entry to the United States due to visa issues will have job security.
University spokesperson Jonathan Swain wrote that Harvard is pleased with the developments in negotiations.
"We welcome the progress today with the two additional tentative agreements,” Swain wrote in an emailed statement. “The University continues to approach these negotiations and the discussion on the issues at the bargaining table in good faith.”
Under the tentative workspace and materials agreement, the University will provide student workers with necessary supplies and desk space “at no cost,” Sandalow-Ash wrote.
The agreement on desk space marks a “substantial improvement” because some student workers currently lack permanent desks, Sandalow-Ash added.
Swain added that the international students agreement came out of the work of a subcommittee, which met outside of full bargaining sessions and included representatives from the Harvard International Office, the University’s negotiating team, and HGSU-UAW.
Student workers across the University began voting Tuesday on whether to authorize a strike. Tuesday marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of negotiations. HGSU announced the vote Oct. 8, citing stalls on certain contractual issues — including compensation, healthcare, and harassment and discrimination protections.
If two-thirds of voting members approve the authorization, the HGSU bargaining committee would be authorized to call a strike when it sees fit.
Polling stations have been open in at least 21 locations across the University’s Cambridge and Longwood campuses since Tuesday.
Sandalow-Ash wrote that despite Thursday’s agreements, “major outstanding issues” remain unaddressed by the University. She said that the strike authorization vote will continue into next week. It was previously unclear whether voting would conclude on Friday — the final day listed on the union’s initial voting schedule.
“This past week, the energy of the strike vote has been amazing,” Sandalow-Ash wrote. “It is clear that student workers across campus are deeply frustrated by the administration’s refusal to agree to fair pay, comprehensive and affordable healthcare, or protections against discrimination and harassment.”
“Student workers are ready to take action,” she added.
Thursday’s developments mark the ninth and tenth provisions agreed upon since negotiations began, and the first since Sept. 9, when the two sides came together on a provision regarding student travel reimbursements.
Also on Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board extended the comment period for its proposed rule changes on who can be classified as a student employee, according to a press release. The proposed changes would essentially reverse a 2016 decision that opened the door for students at private universities and colleges — including Harvard — to unionize.
The original 60-day comment period was set to end on Nov. 22, but the submission window will now remain open through Dec. 16, the release said. Replies to the initial comments can be submitted until Dec. 30.
HGSU has been encouraging its members to submit comments to the proposed rule change.
The next bargaining session will be held on Oct. 30, according to bargaining committee member Lee Kennedy-Shaffer.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
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