With Full Union Proposal, Harvard Now Considering Economic Contract Provisions

Harvard Graduate Students Union marked the launch of their historic bargaining sessions with the University in October 2018 by holding a "Bargainfest" celebration by the John Harvard statue.

University negotiators are now considering the full set of economic proposals outlined by Harvard’s graduate student union for its first contract — including issues such as wages and benefits — according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

Harvard’s negotiators received the last of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ economic proposals during a bargaining session Feb. 22. Before then, only some proposals were offered, and University negotiators tabled conversations while awaiting the full set. Harvard negotiators will now start preparations for a counter-proposal, Swain wrote in an emailed statement.

Swain described the union’s economic proposals’ fiscal impact on the University as “significant” and said that Harvard is analyzing the total financial impact of those proposals on all of its schools.

Evan C. MacKay ’19, a HGSU-UAW bargaining committee member, wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard’s $39.2 billion endowment means the University should offer union members more benefits.


“There is no reason that student workers at the wealthiest university in the world should struggle to make ends meet,” he wrote.

Ashley B. Gripper, another HGSU-UAW bargaining committee member, wrote in an emailed statement that the union has made its proposals with “guidance” from its members.

“We hope that the university will promptly respond to our economic proposals and that we will be able to work together productively to ensure that all student workers can afford to study, work, and live at Harvard,” she wrote.

Swain wrote that the University wanted to consider the economic proposals as a package before offering counter-proposals.

“From the beginning of negotiations, the University has communicated its intent to consider proposals that have economic impact collectively, rather than one by one,” he wrote. “We know that proposals around benefits and compensation can be complex but are critical aspects of a management-labor contract, and that they take time to formulate and negotiate.”

William A. Herbert, who directs the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College at the City University of New York, said that tabling economic proposals until the total financial impact can be considered is fairly common in contract negotiations.

“In order to be able to determine what the overall costs are for the entire package would necessitate hearing them to examine them altogether, because…one of the primary issues in collective bargaining is going to be costs,” he said.

“The nature of negotiations are that there may be some costs that could be modified based on the total costs in things like health insurance, for example, where it could be that the original cost proposed actually can be less by examining another type of insurance,” he added.

In the interim, negotiators have exchanged counter-proposals on issues that do pertain to wages and benefits, such as a neutral third-party grievance procedures, and health and safety protections. They have come to tentative agreements on four proposals on issues including accessibility to employment records and resources for professional development.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.