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In Off-The-Record Town Halls, Harvard Grad Student Union Says Strike Likely This Semester

Harvard Graduate Students Union
The Harvard Graduate Students Union held a strike authorization vote last month.

Harvard’s graduate student union told attendees at a town hall last Friday that a strike this semester is likely, just days after the group passed a strike authorization vote with more than 90 percent of voters in support.

Bargaining committee members said in the town hall that the strike will likely take place this semester, according to Boryana T. Hadzhiyska, a second-year graduate student in Astronomy who attended the town hall held in the Science Center Friday.

The union held consecutive town hall meetings last Thursday and Friday, the former of which was held at Longwood, Harvard’s medical campus. Organizers planned the events to bring Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers members up-to-date on the status of their contract negotiations with the University. Attendees said the events also covered recommendations to student workers on how to manage teaching and research responsibilities if a strike takes place.

“They’re mostly sure that it will happen this semester,” Hadzhiyska said, referring to the bargaining committee members who facilitated the meeting and answered questions. “Just like the timing and whether, you know, it can be organized that quickly and things like that are a concern.”

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A potential strike’s exact timing, however, is still under consideration, according to Hadzhiyska and Jonas M. Hermann, another town hall attendee and a second-year graduate student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

“There’s no clear idea of when it should take place, if at all, at this point,” Hermann said.

HGSU members overwhelmingly authorized their bargaining committee to call a strike Oct. 26. The committee is now empowered to do so whenever it deems necessary.

Reading and final periods emerged as possible times for striking during town hall conversations, according to Hermann and Hadzhiyska. If a strike were to take place during those times, the primary duty graduate student teaching assistants would forego is grading.

Sandalow-Ash declined to comment on the timing or format of a possible strike.

Hermann and Hadzhiyska also said the bargaining committee discussed what a possible strike might entail for student workers.

Hermann and Hadzhiyska said one town hall attendee raised concerns about responsibilities like growing cultures in a lab that would die if left unattended.

Hermann and Hadzhiyska both said union leaders said that in the event of a strike, research assistants who join the strike should only continue research that contributes to their own academic program.

“I remember that one of the responses was that, you know, a lab should probably be sustained such that, like, it at least doesn't get disrupted,” Hadzhiyska said. “But for example, withholding the analysis of the lab results, results and stuff like that, which can be postponed and can be delayed, that kind of work is expected to be withheld during the strike.”

The events were advertised as open to all students but “closed to the press” in an email the bargaining committee sent to members Oct. 29. Members of The Crimson were asked to leave both meetings, despite both members being students and agreeing to respect the meetings’ off-the-record status.

Union bargaining committee member Justin Bloesch said when requesting the Crimson members leave the meetings that the union would not be able to be “frank” with its members with them in attendance.

Bloesch also stated that the events were only open to union members and those thinking of striking. The union, however, did not advertise this ahead of the meetings and did not appear to verify the union status of other attendees.

“These Town Halls were closed to the press because we wanted to give student workers a chance to ask questions without worrying that their questions or comments would appear in print,” Sandalow-Ash wrote in an emailed statement Sunday evening.

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

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

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