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UC Supports Harvard Grad Student Union’s Right to Strike

UC first meeting Smith Center
The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Campus Center.

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council passed legislation at its meeting Sunday to support the University’s graduate student union’s right to strike.

In a statement approved 40-1, the council endorsed the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers 90.4 percent vote in favor of strike authorization, which was passed late Friday night.

“This is a strong mandate to make sure the first union contract for student workers guarantees protections against harassment and discrimination, fair pay, paid parental leave, and health care with year-round mental health and dental coverage,” the statement reads.

The statement also invited undergraduates to sign a letter declaring support should union negotiators decide to call for a strike. Earlier this month, the UC supported HGSU’s strike authorization vote prior to the vote's passage.

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Earlier this month, HGSU announced it would hold a strike authorization vote, which would give the union’s bargaining committee the right to declare a strike if it sees fit. The union has been bargaining with the University for more than a year. While the two sides have reached tentative agreements on 11 issues, they remain at odds on compensation and harassment and discrimination adjudication procedures.

The University has advised faculty members to prepare for a potential strike, but University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard does not believe 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 council also plans to publicize a letter written by Our Harvard Can Do Better — an anti-sexual assault advocacy organization — addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 supporting HGSU’s right to strike in its weekly email newsletter.

“We recognize and affirm the importance of using a strike as a measure of last resort to win a fair contract,” the letter reads. “We stand in solidarity with our fellow students and will join all student workers on the picket lines if needed until they win the protections and benefits they so deserve. Teaching and research assistants’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

Mather House representative Sanika S. Mahajan ’21, who sponsored the legislation, wrote in the proposal that publicizing the letter would help inform undergraduates about the strike.

“[T]he Undergraduate Council’s endorsement and publicization of a student support letter would help ensure that undergraduate students are informed about an important component of the union process and can be part of the push toward better provisions if they would like,” she wrote.

No representatives offered comments against the legislation during Sunday’s meeting.

The UC also voted to co-host an open forum on sexual violence at Harvard in collaboration with Our Harvard Can Do Better.

The forum is largely in response to the results of a national sexual misconduct climate survey that revealed that sexual assault rates at Harvard remain largely unchanged from four years ago, according to UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20, who sponsored the legislation. The survey found that roughly 33 percent of undergraduate women at Harvard reported experiencing nonconsesual sexual contact.

“In light of the [Association of American Universities] Student Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct results that we all received last week, Our Harvard Can Do Better and the UC are seeking to create a student-led space where undergraduate community members can feel safe and empowered to express their feelings, thoughts, and reactions to the survey data as well as the problem of sexual violence at Harvard more generally, and discuss steps forward,” the legislation reads.

The forum will be held in the Lowell House Junior Common Room from 6:30-8 p.m. on Oct. 30, Huesa said.

The UC also allocated $3,450 to help fund the East Coast Chicanx Student Forum on Nov. 15. The conference will discuss the Chicano movements of the 1970s and diversity within the Chicanx community, according to the legislation.

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

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