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As Harvard Grad Union Wraps Up Strike Voting, Garber Reiterates University's Position

University Provost Alan M. Garber at Commencement 2016
University Provost Alan M. Garber observes Commencement ceremonies in 2016.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 defended in a Thursday interview Harvard’s position on controversial proposals in Harvard’s negotiation process with its graduate student union.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers announced two weeks ago that it would hold a strike authorization vote to enable its bargaining committee to call a strike if it deems necessary. The vote is set to wrap up Friday, according to a Tuesday email HGSU bargaining committee member Jennifer K. Austiff sent to members and would require two-thirds of voters’ support to pass.

Garber said the University does not believe a strike is justified.

“We don't think that there is any reason for a strike when we're in the midst of negotiations that are happening in a very serious way,” Garber said.

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“It’s the right of the union to pursue a strike authorization vote, and we respect that,” Garber added.

Garber also said it would be “premature” to specify the measures the University plans to take in the event of a strike, but noted that Harvard is looking at other universities’ historic responses to strikes.

“We do need to take various kinds of precautions and have learned from the experiences of the other universities,” he said.

Garber also defended Harvard’s position on much-debated proposals between the union and the University including health insurance, protections against discrimination and harassment, and compensation.

HGSU and the University remain at an impasse regarding the union’s sexual harassment and nondiscrimination proposal. The union's version would give members the option to address discrimination and sexual harassment complaints using a third-party grievance procedure outside of Harvard’s normal adjudication methods.

Garber said that protections against discrimination and harassment are a “top priority for the University,” but that he is not supportive of the union proposal’s “fairly narrow process” that would only apply to a small portion of the University’s members.

“We are not going to commit our approach to these high priority issues to just a narrow segment of the population,” Garber said. “We’re committed to improving everything we do about Title IX and non-discrimination, and we have a committee — the Title IX policy review committee — that will be continuously reviewing our TItle IX policies with an aim to improving them."

The two sides still have not come to agreement on compensation and health benefits either. HGSU’s healthcare proposal includes paid dependent health care, dental coverage, and increased coverage for specialist and mental health care visits.

Garber noted that the two sides have a “difference of approach” to changing the insurance plan. HGSU’s proposal would only apply to student workers, not other students, he said.

“If there is a good idea that should be implemented, we want to implement it broadly,” Garber said. “Carving out a separate health insurance plan just for the time that people are in the union...is not feasible, nor is it the best way to deliver effective health care.”

He also said it would be difficult to implement changes through HGSU's contract because student workers do not necessarily “serve continuously" in roles that allow them to be eligible for HGSU membership.

“It's simply not feasible to have one health insurance plan one semester and a different health insurance plan another semester,” Garber said.

Garber added that the union has requested “much greater increases” than the University’s most recent proposal on compensation.

“The compensation proposal that we last put forward is more generous than what the UAW has secured in other negotiations with universities recently,” he said.

Harvard and HGSU recently entered the second year of negotiations for their first contract. HGSU bargaining committee member Hector F. Medina-Abarca wrote in an emailed statement that the union was frustrated by the lack of progress in key contract provisions.

“For over a year of negotiations, our union has called for fair pay, comprehensive and affordable healthcare, and protections against discrimination and harassment,” Medina-Abarca wrote. “In response, the University is proposing pay raises that are lower than current practice in many departments; refusing to bargain over our health care plan; and insisting on denying student workers protections against harassment that every other union employee at Harvard has.”

The next bargaining session between HGSU and Harvard is scheduled to take place on Oct. 30.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at ruoqi.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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