Harvard’s graduate student union delivered a petition to Massachusetts Hall during a rally attended by more than 150 supporters — including Cambridge City Councillors and members of labor unions across Massachusetts — Wednesday.
The petition by Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers calls for a contract provision that would allow student workers to choose to pursue a third-party grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. Petitioners also demanded more frequent bargaining sessions. Signed by more than 2,000 student workers, Harvard affiliates, and other supporters, the petition was supported by a majority of the union’s bargaining unit, according to a press release from HGSU-UAW and Ege Yumusak ’16, a member of the HGSU-UAW bargaining committee.
Students and supporters from other unions across the state gathered for the rally, entitled “Time’s Up Harvard”, at Harvard’s Science Center Plaza at noon. The Undergraduate Council, which voted to support HGSU-UAW’s petition last Sunday, promoted the event to all undergraduates in an email Wednesday morning.
The event featured speakers including Greater Boston Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Richard Rogers and Cambridge City Councillors Sumbul Siddiqui and E. Denise Simmons.
After an hour, the participants marched across Harvard Yard to Massachusetts Hall, which houses University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s office. Three people then went inside to deliver the petition.
After several minutes of chanting, Bacow walked out and told the crowd he had stepped out of a faculty meeting to inform the union members present that the University wants “what’s best for you.”
“We want a contract, too,” Bacow said. “We are bargaining in good faith, we will work with you in good faith.”
After being interrupted by protesters, Bacow asked to be allowed to finish.
“We also don’t want sexual harassment on this campus,” he said. “We are working towards the same ends as you are and we will work with you.”
Bargaining committee member Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15 wrote in an emailed statement that the union’s proposed anti-discrimination contract provision offers a model “that has served both student workers at other universities and members of other campus unions here at Harvard well.” HGSU-UAW’s proposal would allow student workers to choose between the University’s internal dispute resolution procedures and a third-party neutral arbitration procedure when discrimination issues like sexual misconduct arise.
“Under the status quo, survivors of discrimination and harassment must go through Harvard’s internal offices, which have too often discouraged student workers from reporting; failed to protect those who do report; and failed to hold powerful perpetrators accountable,” Sandalow-Ash wrote, in reference to an ongoing Title IX investigation into Government Professor Emeritus Jorge I. Dominguez.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the University has multiple concerns about the union’s proposal.
“HGSU-UAW has proposed grievances and arbitration rights that would skip over the detailed investigatory process that is in place to ensure thoroughness, fair play and due process for the complainant and respondent alike,” Swain wrote. “The University would underline that an independent arbitrator would have no legal power to issue sanctions or any form of punishment on an offending faculty, student or employee.”
“It would also place many of the 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,” Swain added.
Swain wrote that Harvard’s current procedure on claims of sexual assault and discrimination was created with “extensive” input from across the University and that the union’s proposal would create different investigatory process for different groups of students.
The University’s counter-proposal would give the union representation on one existing and two new “working groups” on reforming policies related to Title IX — a federal anti-gender discrimination law — and “other forms of discrimination and misconduct,” according to Swain.
He wrote that the University’s proposal offers contractual protection for student workers from retaliation for pursuing claims of discrimination, an “impartial and unbiased panel” for appeals, and a contractual guarantee that student workers will not be pressured to accept informal resolution in place of pursuing a formal complaint.
Throughout five months of collective bargaining with the University, HGSU-UAW has also consistently called for the University to grant more time in the negotiating room.
“Every day without a contract is a day without protections from harassment and discrimination; a day without rights and support for international student workers; and a day without comprehensive and affordable health, vision, and dental care,” Yumusak wrote in an emailed statement. “And we know that in order to achieve a strong contract, we need more time at the bargaining table.”
Swain wrote that negotiations are “active and ongoing.”
“Many of the items being negotiated by HGSU-UAW and the University are complex and take time to be vetted, including outside of bargaining meetings, in order for the University to respond appropriately,” he wrote.
Harvard and HGSU-UAW negotiators recently formed sub-committees that also meet between sessions to expedite agreements on certain proposals, according to Swain.
Bargaining committee member Madeleine F. Jennewein wrote in an emailed statement that she hopes the rally will convince the University to agree to the union’s proposal on sexual harassment and discrimination.
“When we return to the bargaining table on Friday, we hope that the administration will agree to include these crucial civil rights protections in our contract,” Jennewein wrote.
—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.