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Ahead of Strike Deadline, Harvard’s Grad Union Publishes Proposals

On Tuesday, the Harvard Graduate Students Union announced it would hold a strike authorization vote next week.
On Tuesday, the Harvard Graduate Students Union announced it would hold a strike authorization vote next week. By Sara Komatsu
By James S. Bikales and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

With fewer than two weeks until the deadline Harvard’s graduate student union has set to go on strike, both the University and the union's bargaining committee have publicly released their contract proposals.

Earlier this week, Harvard released all of its proposals on a website devoted to the union negotiations. Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers released a selection of provisions on Wednesday related to compensation, health benefits, and grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. These three issues represent the core disagreements at the heart of the impending strike.

While both sides have offered some insights into their proposals over the past year of negotiations, this week’s releases provide unprecedented detail on the most controversial contract provisions. They also demonstrate how far apart the two sides remain on these three issues.

Based on the proposals, conflict over the two sides’ approaches to adjudicating sexual harassment and discrimination complaints appears to have no end in sight. The union has continued to insist that its members be allowed to use a grievance procedure separate from Harvard’s current Title IX processes, and one that could lead to a third-party arbitration. The University, however, has maintained that these complaints be handled through its existing offices, arguing that there might be legal barriers to adopting the union’s proposal.

“We cannot have two different procedures on campus, I think, for dealing with Title IX complaints, depending upon a student's status in a particular moment in time,” University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview earlier this month.

The two sides also remain at an impasse over compensation.

The union’s compensation proposals include yearly salary increases substantially higher than those the University has offered. HGSU’s proposal would bring a salary and stipend increases of six to seven percent per year. The University’s proposal, by contrast, would bring a seven to eight percent wage increase over the next three years.

The two parties’ proposed minimum wages also vary substantially.

The University offered a minimum wage for hourly teaching staff and research assistants of $17 and $15, respectively, with annual raises. The union proposed a minimum wage for all hourly student workers ranging from $28 to $34, depending on academic discipline — nearly double the annual increase in the University's proposal.

In addition to significant differences in compensation, the two sides also vary widely on their healthcare benefits proposals.

All salaried or stipended student workers and hourly student workers working more than 90 hours per semester or summer term — an average of roughly seven hours per week — are eligible for benefits under HGSU’s proposal. Their dependents would also enjoy the same benefits.

Under the union proposal, the University would be required to provide physical, mental, dental, and vision care as well as prescription drugs with “no premiums or fees” to eligible student workers. This would include all in-network mental health specialist visits, medically-approved in-network specialist visits exceeding $35, and gender affirmation medical treatments.

The University’s healthcare proposals include an annual $275,000 health insurance premium support fund, $275,000 child care support fund, $85,000 dental health plan support fund to be distributed at the union’s discretion among its members.

The University also proposed a 2 percent increase in both 2020 and 2021 for its existing Parental Accommodation and Financial Support program, which currently provides Ph.D. students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences a one-time stipend of $6,624 for newly born or adopted children and up to 12 weeks of family leave.

In an email to union members Wednesday, HGSU bargaining committee member Cole M. Meisenhelder wrote that the union will deliver “solidarity letters” to Bacow at his office in Massachusetts Hall Friday, half an hour before negotiators convene for another bargaining session.

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

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

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