The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ strike deadline is upon us and, since a last minute miracle failed to manifest, a picket line across Harvard Yard this morning is inevitable. In the lead up to the strike, both the University and the union's bargaining committee have publicly released their contract proposals — making informed public discourse on the particulars of contract negotiations possible for the first time since negotiations began.
At bare minimum, the proposals confirm what was already evident from statements made by both parties: In terms of the biggest issues, the two parties are, without much exaggeration, miles away from agreement. And while we continue to express our support for HGSU-UAW’s decision, we recognize that this strike will have an immense effect both on campus and nationally, and even more so if it persists.
If the strike is to end any time soon, difficult choices and compromises must be made on both sides. Anything less — small concessions, vague suggestions, floated ideas — will only serve to prolong the stalemate at the bargaining table.
It is critical that both sides have released their respective proposals. Transparency is key to promoting healthy negotiations and productive public discourse. To that end, we would encourage the union to release its full slate of proposals if the online list is not already comprehensive. Only the negotiators have the necessary information and context to fully address the specifics of the proposals and the possibility for compromise. That said, the release of these proposals invites public scrutiny and discourse. And we’d like to share a few initial impressions.
First, we are concerned that the size of the childcare fund the University proposes in the contract barely touches the cost of raising a child in Massachusetts. The $275,000 child care support fund is in no way an adequate sum to draw on, given that the average annual cost of infant care for one child in Massachusetts alone is $17,062. Based on some quick calculations, namely long division, that yields funding for roughly 16.12 children. The University’s additional proposed two percent increase in its Parental Accommodation and Financial Support program, which currently provides a one-time $6,624 stipend for newly born or adopted children of graduate students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, barely touches the problem.
Second, on the part of the union, the proposed six to seven percent annual increase of salary and stipends is considerably above rates found at some peer institutions. For example, at MIT, graduate students saw a three percent increase between 2017 and 2018 — indexing the increase to the cost of living, an action we have previously supported. While the University’s counter-proposal of seven to eight percent over three years might seem too low, the union might look at this compensation package as an area for potential compromise.
More broadly, we encourage both sides to work to break the existing impasse of the negotiations. It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating nonetheless. Certainly, we hope both sides enjoy a restful holiday with their families, but they must redouble negotiating efforts over winter break, so that the strike does not carry over into the coming semester.
Now that both the University and the union's bargaining committee have publicized their contract proposals, scrutiny by members of the Harvard community at large will play an important role in determining the direction negotiations take in the coming weeks. We encourage members of our community, particularly undergraduates doing paid work on campus, to view both proposals, form an opinion, and to make their voices heard as the strike and negotiations unfold.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.