With just over a week until Harvard’s graduate student union is set to strike if no contract is agreed upon, both the University and the union bargaining committees have publicly released their contract proposals.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers and the University are set to hold their last scheduled bargaining session Tuesday before the union’s Dec. 3 strike deadline. Union voters overwhelmingly voted last month to authorize a strike and declared their deadline in early November.
While negotiations last Friday yielded a tentative agreement on job postings — adding to the 11 other tentative agreements reached so far — the two sides remain at an impasse over several key proposals.
After more than a year of negotiations, the two parties have yet to come to agreements on compensation, health benefits, and grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.
In its most recently available compensation proposal, the union included greater salary and stipend increases for student workers than Harvard’s proposal. It also included an annual salary increase at a rate higher than what the University has proposed. At the most recent bargaining session, the union offered a new proposal that has not yet been released publicly.
A University website dedicated to student unionization states that the union has asked for an annual raise of four percent or the inflation rate, whichever is higher.
HGSU did not respond to a request for comment.
In the proposal currently available on the union’s website, its negotiators asked for a 4.25 percent annual wage increase for salaried research assistants and hourly workers, and a five percent increase for salaried teaching staff.
For all salaried research assistants, HGSU has proposed a minimum yearly salary that is eight percent higher than the current annual salary. Harvard’s proposal did not include business and other research assistants as categories.
Compensations for salaried or stipended teaching fellows are determined under different schemes in HGSU’s and Harvard’s proposals. HGSU has proposed that teaching fellow salaries per semester start from $8,143 to $9,819, depending on academic disciplines.
Hourly student workers, a category that includes undergraduate course assistants, would have a substantially higher minimum wage under HGSU’s proposal. Minimum wages in the union’s version would be raised to $28 to $34 per hour, depending on their academic discipline.
HGSU has proposed the opportunity for a third party grievance procedure in instances of sexual harassment and discrimimation. Sexual misconduct complaints are currently adjudicated through the University's Office for Dispute Resolution, which is guided by federal Title IX policy.
The union’s proposal would establish contractual protections against discrimination in a series of categories. In addition to the discriminatory behaviors defined in the University's proposal, the union included protections against discriminations based on HIV status or other medical status, prior conviction of a crime, and physical and mental disabilities. The proposal also demanded the University to “uphold its affirmative action policy.”
HGSU and Harvard, however, are at loggerheads over permitting student workers to resolve complaints regarding sexual harassment and discrimination using a grievance procedure, a dispute-resolution mechanism that can lead to a third-party arbitration common in many labor contracts.
If agreed upon, student workers would have another option aside from Harvard’s internal Title IX processes. The University, meanwhile, has maintained student workers use processes offered by Harvard’s internal offices, arguing possible legal barriers to adopting the union’s proposals.
HGSU’s proposal would not only permit complaints regarding sexual harassment and discrimination to be filed through the union’s grievance procedure, it created chances for “expedited processing” that would allow complainants to directly pursue a third-party arbitration.
At stake in the healthcare debate is the extent of coverage HGSU members would automatically receive under the contract. Negotiators have asked that eligible members would get full health, mental health, dental, vision, and prescription drug coverage. Currently, the dental health insurance plan is optional, requiring students to opt-in and pay an extra fee.
Instead of including dental health in its plan, the University has offered a pool fund of $100,000 to support dental health plan premium payments.
The union has also asked that all coverage available to its members be extended to their dependents.
HGSU has proposed deeming all students who work more than 90 hours per semester — roughly seven hours per week — qualified for health benefits.
Some graduate students have said that limits on specialist visits and mental health care visits under the current Student Health Insurance Plan have forced them to make difficult decisions about their care and pay significant fees out of pocket.
Under the union’s proposed system, all such visits would be covered, as would gender affirmation treatments.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
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