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Harvard Graduate Union to Hold Strike Authorization Vote

Harvard Graduate Students Union
On Tuesday, the Harvard Graduate Students Union announced it would hold a strike authorization vote next week.

UPDATED: Oct. 9, 2019, at 1:07 a.m.

Harvard’s graduate student union will hold a strike authorization vote, the group announced in an email to members Tuesday morning.

This step moves the union — Harvard Graduate Students-United Automobile Workers — one step closer to a strike, which could only follow an authorization vote backed by two-thirds of its voting members. The vote will begin Oct. 15, exactly one year after the contract negotiations with the University began, according to the email from the union’s bargaining committee.

HGSU bargaining committee member Cory W. McCartan wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard’s “intransigence” on harassment and discrimination protections led to the decision to call for a strike vote.

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“Student workers demand fair compensation, improvements on our healthcare plans, and commonsense protections from harassment and discrimination, and we will go all the way to win a fair contract,” McCartan wrote.

HGSU organizers have voiced growing frustration in recent months over the state of contract negotiations, which began nearly a year ago. The union and the University have reached eight tentative agreements, but remain at odds on issues like the sexual harassment and nondiscrimination proposal and the economic proposals.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday morning that University administrators believe the union's calls for a strike authorization vote are "unwarranted."

“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.”

This month’s strike authorization vote will require approval by two-thirds of those voting to pass, according to the rules set out in the United Automobile Workers constitution. HGSU’s bargaining unit comprises roughly 5,000 members, including undergraduate and graduate teaching fellows, teaching assistants, course assistants, and graduate research assistants.

Ratification of the strike authorization would not immediately trigger a strike, but rather would permit the bargaining committee to call for a strike when it sees fit.

HGSU first threatened to organize for a strike authorization vote in an open letter addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow in July. Organizers delivered that letter — which was signed by more than 300 union members — to the University during a July 15 bargaining session.

The bargaining committee wrote in its Tuesday email to members that the University has “refused to budge” since the union delivered their ultimatum in July.

“We have waited long enough,” the email reads. “That is why the union bargaining committee is asking members to authorize a strike if necessary.”

Times and locations for the vote will be announced Friday, and there will be options for absentee voting, according to the union’s email. All student workers who have signed a union card will be eligible to vote, and union cards will be available to sign at the polls, the email said.

HGSU declined to comment on when the vote is expected to close.

Former National Labor Relations Board Chairman William B. Gould IV said in an interview Tuesday that the strike authorization vote announcement raises the negotiations “another notch in terms of pressure,” but does not necessarily mean a strike is imminent.

“What the union will do when they get a vote, if they get an affirmative vote, is, of course, use it as a means of pressure,” Gould said. “It's hard to know whether a strike is likely to follow or not.”

Thus far, the University and union have tentatively agreed to contract provisions on severability, union recognition, accessibility to employment records, and resources for professional development. In August, the two sides reached three additional agreements on intellectual property, health and safety, and the formation of a union-management committee. On Sept. 9, they agreed on a provision for travel reimbursements.

Provisions on sexual harassment and nondiscrimination, wages, and medical benefits, however, remain unresolved after 23 bargaining sessions. The next bargaining session will be held Oct. 17.

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

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