Harvard Grad Student Union Creates Voter Guide Ahead of Local Elections

Cambridge Candidates Climate Change Forum
Cambridge city council candidates discuss their plans to address climate change locally. Voters gathered last month to learn more about the candidates' strategies to respond to this issue.

Harvard’s graduate student union released a voting guide Thursday that includes information about candidates running in the upcoming municipal elections in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, which take place Nov. 5.

Thirty-two candidates from the three cities responded to the union’s questionnaire, which posed yes-no questions and offered opportunities for write-in answers. The candidates in different jurisdictions received different versions of the survey tailored to issues relevant to their constituents.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers released a similar handbook in 2017, before the last municipal election. Each of the cities operate on a bi-annual election schedule.

Union organizer and Harvard Divinity School student Samuel D. Keaser, who helped put together this year’s guide, said that the purpose of creating it was to make sure union members and other Harvard voters are aware of the candidates' positions on a “range of issues,” in particular, the rights of student union members.


Keaser highlighted the survey questions that probed support for student workers’ rights to organize and strike. The survey also included questions about HGSU’s efforts to create a third-party sexual harassment and discrimination incident adjudication process. The survey questioned whether the candidates opposed the National Labor Relations Board’s proposed rule last month that would essentially reverse a 2016 decision that allowed graduate students at private universities to unionize.

All the candidates who replied stated they supported the union’s rights and opposed the proposed NLRB rule.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the survey questions about unionization.

Members of the Cambridge and Boston city councils have recently weighed in on HGSU issues. Cambridge City Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui and E. Denise Simmons spoke at a HGSU rally in March. In April, the council unanimously passed a policy order supporting the union’s calls for increased compensation and backed them on other issues on the bargaining table.

In June, HGSU members testified at a Boston City Council hearing sponsored by Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards to give union members a chance to discuss the statuses of the unions at their respective schools.

Keaser said he hopes the candidates — even those who lose — continue to use the “platform that they have” to support HGSU through public comments and policy proposals.

The voter guide also addressed affordable housing and whether candidates would support a proposed affordable housing zoning overlay. Some survey respondents argued that Harvard has contributed to the housing problem in the city. Cambridge candidate Charles J. Franklin said the University is “part of the problem,” as they do not provide “adequate housing for students.”

“I am in favor of denying them any future building permits or upzoning requests until they build more housing for their students,” he said.

In August, the University announced it was recommitting to a $20 million program to facilitate affordable housing development in Cambridge and the greater Boston area. Since 2000, this fund has helped create more than 1,600 units of affordable housing in the city, according to University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke. She wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard houses nearly all of its undergraduates on campus and has the capacity to house nearly half of its graduate students.

Proposed before the council in early 2019, the controversial affordable housing overlay saw months of fiery debate from councilors, residents, and candidates before being tabled until next term.

The voter guide also addressed Harvard’s role in combating climate change, which has become a significant issue in the council election.

Several candidates reiterated their calls for Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuels. In the guide, Mayor Marc C. McGovern said he is “proud” he joined Divest Harvard in recent demonstrations for divestment.

“We must work with Harvard, push Harvard, and demand that Harvard do its part part in addressing climate change, and it starts with their divestment from fossil fuels,” he said.

O’Rourke wrote that the University is “acting aggressively” to address climate change and noted that University President Lawrence S. Bacow, as well as members of the Harvard Corporation, have met with divestment advocates several times, most recently last week.

O’Rourke added that the University maintains “meaningful partnerships” with Cambridge and Boston.

“Harvard is modeling the pathway to a healthier, fossil-free future,” she wrote.

Keaser said the guide is an important piece of HGSU’s contribution to Harvard’s “civic life. ”

“In addition to being Harvard graduate student workers, and undergraduate student workers, we're all parts of these communities,” he said. “One of our main hopes with this, too, is just that students and workers have that option and ability to access and engage with their communities in a more real way.”

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

— Staff writer Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.