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Harvard Grad Student Union Will Strike If Contract Not Reached Before Reading Period

Harvard’s graduate student union announced Tuesday morning that it will strike if negotiations are unable to reach a contract with the University by Dec. 3.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile workers informed their members of the impending deadline in an email Tuesday morning. The union informed the University of its “strong mandate” to finalize a contract this semester during a bargaining session Oct. 30, according to the email.

“We on the bargaining committee, working together with department leaders from across campus, have set a strike deadline for December 3rd,” the email reads. “If the Administration does not bargain a fair agreement by that time, we will go out on strike.”

December 3 is the final day of classes for the fall semester, which means a potential strike would occur during reading and finals period.

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The bargaining committee’s email highlighted that it still seeks to avoid a strike.

“The Bargaining Committee will continue to negotiate this month and will do all it can to avert a strike, but the administration must negotiate towards a fair agreement to avoid a strike,” the committee wrote.

Union negotiators declined to comment for this story.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the announcement was “disappointing.”

"HGSU-UAW is making a choice to potentially disrupt the academic work of all Harvard students as they wrap up the semester, which is disappointing,” Swain wrote. “The University continues to approach these negotiations in good faith and feels a strike is unwarranted.”

“We will work across the University to prepare for a strike and make every attempt to reduce negative impact on students as they are wrapping up the semester's academic work and preparing for and taking their finals,” he added.

HGSU and the University will meet for bargaining sessions Nov. 15, 22, and 26, according to Swain.

Student teaching staff who strike will not offer instruction of any type, including teaching classes, sections, review sessions, and office hours, according to a strike guide released by HGSU. They will also stop grading papers, exams, and assignments for the duration of the strike.

Graduate research assistants who strike will also withhold 20 hours of paid research work per week, per the guide. These students, however, will not withhold the work that contributes to their own academic programs.

The bargaining committee’s email encouraged members to begin preparing for a potential strike by speaking with their students and faculty members. It also recommended members join the picket line if a strike takes place.

“In order to have strong, visible picket lines, it will be important to spend as close as possible to 20 hours on the line in lieu of working,” the email said.

At least 95 faculty members have also signed an open letter pledging that they will not retaliate against striking student workers.

Associate Provost Doreen Koretz and University Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email to faculty Oct. 15 — ahead of a vote to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike — that it is “critical” that faculty plan for how they would continue running courses in the event of a strike.

HGSU represents roughly 5,000 graduate research assistants and student teaching staff at the University. More than 90 percent of the students who voted in a strike authorization vote last month supported strike authorization.

Tuesday’s announcement came days after the union held two town halls to update its members on the status of negotiations and make recommendations to student workers on how to navigate teaching and research responsibilities if a strike were to occur.

HGSU and the University have remained at an impasse over several key issues in the more than year-old contract negotiations, including compensation, health insurance, and a grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.

—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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