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Ahead of an impending strike and more than a year into contract negotiations with its graduate students union, Harvard and its graduate student union released the proposals they have put forward in bargaining sessions.
The publication of the University’s proposals — including items relating to compensation, health insurance, and grievance procedure — came ahead of the union’s Dec. 3 strike deadline. Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers overwhelmingly approved its strike authorization vote in October, with more than 90 percent of voters in favor of authorizing a strike. A strike would mean possible stoppage in student workers’ teaching, grading, discussion sections, and office hours. In the event of a strike, student research assistants may also withhold some work hours.
After 27 bargaining sessions between the University and the union, the two sides have successfully reached 12 tentative agreements on issues including international student worker rights, intellectual property, and workplace and materials.
Despite the agreements, the University and the union remain at loggerheads over economic proposals like child care, health insurance premiums, and student salaries. They are also at an impasse over the union’s proposal to give student workers an option to raise sexual harassment and discrimination complaints through a grievance procedure separate from current University processes, which could ultimately lead to third-party arbitration.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the proposals were posted alongside other information the University is releasing “in preparation” for a potential strike.
“The University views an HGSU-UAW strike as unwarranted, and believes that it is important that the community has the opportunity to see the substantive proposals the University has put forward in these ongoing negotiations,” Swain wrote.
HGSU released some of its own proposed articles Wednesday. The union did not respond to a request for comment.
The two sides most recently came to a tentative agreement on job postings during a bargaining session Friday. Under the provision, Harvard would create a central website to publish open positions represented by HGSU.
The University and the union have one more scheduled negotiating session Tuesday before the strike deadline.
Under the University’s compensation proposal, salaried student research assistants in the Sciences would receive a three percent salary increase this year, and two 2.5 percent salary increases over the next two years, while salaried teaching fellows would receive a two percent salary increase this year, and two 2.5 percent salary increases in the next two years.
Hourly student research assistants and teaching staff are promised an hourly minimum wage of 15 dollars and 17 dollars, respectively, upon ratification of the contract. The minimum wage levels will be raised 2.5 percent each for the next two years.
Swain has claimed that Harvard’s compensation proposal is in line with contracts negotiated at other universities.
The union described the University’s proposals as inadequate. In a bargaining update posted after an August bargaining session, where compensation proposals were discussed, HGSU’s bargaining committee wrote that the proposed increases were “meager,” and lag behind peer institutions.
Whether complaints regarding sexual harassment and discrimination can be addressed through an original grievance procedure outlined in the contract remains a central issue of negotiations between HGSU and the University. The union has demanded that student workers be given an option to raise such complaints through their suggested grievance procedure — a dispute resolution mechanism outside of current internal Harvard channels, and one that could eventually lead to third-party arbitration in some cases.
The University, on the other hand, has insisted that these complaints be handled through Title IX complaints and its Office for Dispute Resolution, and through internal discirmination procedures.
In an interview earlier this month, University President Lawrence S. Bacow argued that that issues could result from a process that operates outside of Harvard’s formal processes.
“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,” Bacow said. “What they proposed is problematic in a number of different dimensions, and so we're trying to explain why we think that doesn't work, given our legal obligations under Title IX.”
The University has instead offered the union seats on its Title IX Policy Review Advisory Committee within the first three months of the contract’s ratification. It has also offered to create two additional working groups to recommend policies for non-sex-based discirmination and misconduct that is serious but does not rise to the level of a formal policy violation.
The University has offered pool funds to support union members’ health insurance and dental health plan premium payments. According to the University's proposal, the union would be in charge of designing the mechanism to distribute these funds.
After increasing the amount of money in the health insurance premium fund and dental health plan support funds by $25,000 and $10,000 respectively in a Nov. 15 proposal, the University added another $25,000 to each fund in an updated proposal Friday.
The University also increased its offer for a child care fund for student workers twice, raising the size of the child care fund it proposed by $25,000 two times to a current total of $300,000. In previous bargaining updates, union bargaining committee members had called the additional funds “marginal.”
“They made marginal changes with token dollar amount increases to their child care benefits, health and dental benefits, and emergency grants proposals—but the administration’s counter-proposals barely offset the costs that student workers face,” HGSU bargaining committee member Lee Kennedy-Shaffer wrote in a November update.
The University has proposed that student workers be allowed to choose whether they join the union or not — a system known as an “open shop” arrangement that has been fiercely criticized by members of HGSU's bargaining committee.
HGSU, on the other hand, has proposed an “agency shop” arrangement by including a provision typically known as “union security clause.” Such a clause would require student workers to pay dues to cover bargaining costs if they chose not to pay union membership dues.
The University does not have open shop arrangements with any of its other unions. Carrie E. Barbash — who serves as president of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, Harvard’s largest union — said in a February interview that she is strongly opposed to an open shop arrangement.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.
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