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UC Supports Harvard Graduate Students Union’s Proposed Third-Party Arbitration Procedures

UC Meeting
Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Julia M. Huesa '20 lead an Undergraduate council meeting.

UPDATED: March 12, 2019 at 3:38 p.m.

The Undergraduate Council signed a statement Sunday in support of the graduate student union’s efforts to ensure that their new contract with the University includes an option for union members to seek third-party grievance procedures to address sexual harassment issues.

Because Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers represents over 400 undergraduate student workers, Mather House Representative Sanika S. Mahajan ’21, Dunster House Representative Janani Krishnan-Jha ’20, and Ivy Yard Representative Jenny Y. Gan ’22 sponsored a bill to sign a statement in favor of third-party grievance processes. Such processes allow complainants to seek help from organizations outside of Harvard to resolve issues of sexual harassment and discrimination.

“The administration has proposed carving potential protections for harassment and discrimination out of student workers’ first union contract,” the statement reads. “We reject this proposal. We stand united to demand the administration agree to a fair and neutral grievance procedure for harassment and discrimination in this historic contract for HGSU-UAW.”

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The third-party organization that would adjudicate such issues would likely be the American Arbitration Association, and costs associated with arbitration would be split equally between the union and the University, according to Lisa L. Xu, a staff organizer for the union who attended the Sunday meeting.

Union members who suffer other grievances, such as lack of pay, are eligible to undergo third-party arbitration under the current draft of the contract. Xu said one reason the University has given for opposing the inclusion of sexual harassment and discrimination issues in third-party grievance procedures was that the University has already worked to strengthen its own offices responsible for overseeing such issues.

“Their stated reason is that they invested a lot into improving Title IX. They don’t want us to bypass their procedures, but we’re not suggesting a bypass at all,” Xu said. “You can simultaneously file a Title IX and a union grievance. We think they are potentially scared of the reputational consequences if students access the system because they might have more confidence in it because it is a neutral third party who is making the decisions at the end of the day.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the University handles claims of sexual assault and discrimination using policies that have received "extensive" input from Harvard affiliates.

"A single system, not one carved out only for unionized student workers, is how the University can best ensure the safety and well-being of all students," Swain wrote. "What HGSU-UAW has proposed would place many complainants and respondents, along with those who may have been witnesses to the event(s) in question, face-to-face in an adversarial arbitration hearing, potentially with lawyers and cross-examination, something the University does not believe is appropriate for these important, complex and sensitive issues.”

Third-party arbitrators would also not have the legal power to punish any faculty, students, or employees found guilty of misconduct, according to Swain.

Some UC representatives said they wanted to hear the University’s point-of-view before passing a statement condemning their decisions.

“I just don’t think it’s good practice to vote on statements when we haven’t heard both sides of the argument,” said UC Secretary Cade S. Palmer ’20, who is also a former Crimson Sports Chair.

The bill also contained clauses calling on the UC to publicize a #TimesUp rally that the union will host Wednesday and to support a union petition to demand more bargaining time with the University. The union has met with Harvard administrators approximately every two weeks since negotiations began in October 2018.

The council ultimately voted to pass the legislation 20-9-1. In doing so, they joined dozens of other organizations in signing the statement, including the Harvard College Democrats, Harvard College Disability Alliance, Our Harvard Can Do Better, and the Student Labor Action Movement. The Graduate Student Council also approved a resolution declaring its support for the union’s proposed grievance procedures.

The UC also announced at the Sunday meeting that reduced rates for Lyft rides will roll out to students this week after it spent months planning a partnership with the ride-sharing service.

“We went into this partnership really trying to identify the transportation gaps and see how a pilot program with Lyft, in particular, could help fill in those gaps,” UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 said.

In the first phase of the partnership, Lyft will offer five rides for a flat rate of $3.50 to a maximum of 2000 students. In the second phase, which will begin in April, Lyft will offer students $10 off on one late-night ride between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. from Thursday through Saturday.

At the end of April, the UC will present data regarding both phases of the pilot program to administrators in the hopes of formalizing an official partnership with Lyft, according to Palaniappan.

The UC also considered issuing a statement in support of rehiring Harvard School of Public Health security guard Joseph G. Bartuah, who was terminated from his post Feb. 27. The University has said Bartuah was terminated because he left his post unattended, whereas Bartuah alleges his termination was in retaliation for complaints he sent to his supervisors raising workplace concerns.

The council voted to table discussion of the statement until its next meeting to give its members more time to review the evidence — including interviews with involved parties and email records — surrounding the issue.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Laura C. Espinoza can be reached at laura.espinoza@thecrimson.com.

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