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Cambridge City Council Reiterates Support for Harvard Grad Union Contact

Cambridge City Hall

The Cambridge City Council unanimously voted — for the second time — to support Harvard’s graduate student union in its efforts to reach an agreement with Harvard, this time making its demands more urgent.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui, Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Councilor Alanna M. Mallon, and Councilor E. Denise Simmons.

The vote came several weeks after Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers voted to authorize its bargaining committee to call a strike when it sees fit. Though there are no formal plans yet to strike, the union has told members it is likely to happen this semester if a final agreement is not reached.

McGovern said during the meeting that it is a “shame” the issue is still being negotiated, and that Harvard’s current graduate students’ wages are “unconscionable.”

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“The city has the resources to pay close to $15 an hour. That's why we do it,” he said. “Harvard has the resources to do the same and it's important that institutions that have the financial capability to pay a living wage do so.”

The council previously passed a similar unanimous resolution in April to support union negotiations.

Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan also criticized the University’s approach to negotiations, specifically citing “harassment by faculty.” In recent months, HGSU and the University have been at loggerheads in negotiations over anti-harassment provisions in the contract.

“The students are asking for basic protections of their rights, and it's absolutely unacceptable for the University to refuse that,” he said. “So I agree with my colleagues that this has to happen, and we should be doing everything we can to put pressure on the University to make it happen.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.

He has previously told The Crimson that the union’s proposal would place complainants and respondents face-to-face in an “adversarial arbitration.” Swain has also said in the past that the University’s counterproposal would offer the union members seats on a committee and two working groups to review Harvard’s current policies and procedures on Title IX and “other forms of discrimination and misconduct.”

Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15, a member of Harvard’s graduate student union’s bargaining committee, spoke at the meeting, arguing that the University has not addressed “serious complaints” regarding grievance procedures for misconduct.

“The University has done nothing,” she said. “Nothing to protect student workers civil rights, nothing to protect our rights to study and work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.”

Union member Matthew R. Volpe also spoke to the council, and said the University’s power is “problematic.”

“I think it's unfortunately clear that Harvard doesn't see its graduate students as holding much power to actually influence what goes on at the University,” he said. “We're really relying on support from outside organizations, like our local government, to support us and make this happen.”

— Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at declan.knieriem@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.

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