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Harvard’s graduate student union is officially on strike after more than a year of negotiations with University administrators. While the two parties have reached 12 tentative agreements after 28 bargaining sessions, they remain at odds over key issues such as compensation, health care benefits, and grievance procedure.
Several other unions on campus have recently offered their support for the striking graduate students, noting that many of the same provisions HGSU is negotiating over are included in every union contract on campus.
Below, The Crimson has analyzed how HGSU and the University’s compensation and benefits proposals compare to existing provisions in other unions’ contracts.
HGSU’s most recent proposal on compensation, which negotiators brought to the table Dec. 2, asks for a 5 percent wage increase this year and a 3.5 percent increase each subsequent year of the contract.
HGSU’s proposal for yearly wage increases most closely matches that of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents Harvard’s dining hall workers and reached its current contract at the end of a 22-day strike in 2016.
HUDS workers received between a 3.29 and 5.74 percent increase after their first year, and between a 1.04 and 3.70 percent increase in the second year, according to The Crimson’s analysis of their contract.
Members of 32BJ SEIU, which represents Harvard’s custodians and contracted security guards, received a wage increase of between 2.97 to 3.29 percent in the first year of their contract, which was negotiated in 2016. They make between $23.39 and $25.70 per hour, depending on their position and seniority.
HGSU negotiators have asked for a minimum wage of $25 per hour or 5 percent above the current rate for all workers, a decrease from their previous call for $28 to $34 per hour depending on their academic discipline.
The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers — Harvard’s largest union — divides its employees into 10 salary grades. In the contract it ratified last year, it negotiated increases of 3.8 percent in the first year and 3.5 percent in the two subsequent years for the maximum and minimum of each grade.
The hourly pay rates for members of the Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union increase by 2.25 percent annually, though this increase is accompanied by a flat rate increase, depending on employees’ base wage.
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.
HUSPMGU President Curt E. Rheault called Harvard’s proposal “low” given the rate of inflation, cost of living in Boston, and cost of education.
“In my opinion, they need at least a three percent raise, no matter what, just to be above treading water,” Rheault said.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Rheault’s characterization of Harvard’s proposal.
HGSU’s current benefits proposals would require the University to cover all eligible student workers’ health insurance premiums and fees, currently totaling $4,906 per year for students, and 90 percent of dental insurance premiums on their current or another substantially similar plan. Harvard’s current student dental coverage plan is currently set to be priced at $279 per student each semester starting in February 2020.
The proposal also asked the University to reimburse 65 and 100 percent of adult and child dependent health insurance premiums, respectively, which current cost $7,718 and $4,100 a year.
Under HGSU’s proposals, out-of-pocket costs for each specialist visit would be capped at $35 for student workers, with Harvard covering the rest of the cost. Eligible student workers’ spending on mental health specialist visits would also be capped at $500 per year.
In other campus unions such as HUCTW, HUSPMGU, and UNITE HERE Local 26, employees in a higher salary grade currently contribute more to their health insurance premiums. For employees in those unions earning less than $55,000 annually, a point-of-service plan – which the Student Health Insurance Plan is – currently costs between $1,476 and $1,716 per year. A similar plan that covers an entire family would cost $3,984 to $4,632 per year.
Dental insurance premiums for an employee or an entire family cost $240 and $672 per year respectively.
HGSU and Harvard have also remained deadlocked over grievance procedures and union membership proposals.
HGSU has demanded that members of its bargaining unit be allowed to use a union grievance procedure – a dispute-resolution mechanism that can lead to third-party arbitration – to handle sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.
The University’s proposal, however, explicitly forbids the use of grievance procedures to adjudicate these complaints. Instead, Harvard has insisted that these claims be investigated under its internal Title IX procedures.
Current contracts for some other campus unions, including HUCTW, UNITE HERE Local 26, HUSPMGU, SEIU 32BJ, allow discrimination complaints to be handled through a union grievance procedure.
The University has also 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 a “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 has argued that the union’s proposal could result in workers being terminated if they fail to pay fees, leaving them unable to finish their academic program.
With no additional bargaining sessions scheduled, HGSU is set to begin picketing Tuesday morning. The strike is expected to be indefinite depending on the progress of negotiations.
Correction: Nov. 4, 2019
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers negotiated increases of 2.3 percent in the first year and 2 percent for various grades of employees. In fact, HUCTW negotiated increases of 3.8 and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Correction: Nov. 4, 2019
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that other unions on campus, including HUCTW, receive much lower yearly increases in wages compared to the union's proposed increases. In fact, on average, HUCTW raises are greater than those of other unions on campus.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.
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