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Grad Student Union Reaches New Agreements with Harvard, Warns ‘Greater Action’

Bargainfest
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.

After meeting regularly throughout the summer, Harvard’s graduate student union reached three tentative agreements with the University in a bargaining session Tuesday. The recent progress comes more than seven months after the two sides last found common ground in agreements in January.

This week’s agreements — including consensus on intellectual property, health and safety, and the formation of a union-management committee — brought the total number of agreed provisions to seven since bargaining began last October.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers announced the agreements in an email to its members following the session. The intellectual property agreement requires the University to clarify its procedures for disputes over intellectual property and prohibits retaliation against union members who brings claims, according to the email.

The health and safety provision would ensure student workers receive “proper training,” protective equipment, and joint meetings between them and the administrators discussing health and safety issues. Both sides also agreed to a union management committee — a common practice in labor relations — that will serve as a direct line of communication between the union and the administration, the union said.

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Despite the new consensus, HGSU and Harvard have yet to come together on any economic proposals, and remain at loggerheads on non-discrimination and anti-harassment procedures.

During this week’s bargaining session, the union scaled back some of its economic proposals, according to the union’s email. Negotiators reduced the amount they are seeking for family insurance benefits and transportation subsidies to “reach compromise on other articles,” and merged two of their healthcare proposals, according to the email update.

The changes to the proposals were primarily to “simplify the proposals” and do not decrease the “coverage or quality in healthcare” the union is seeking, union bargaining committee member Cole M. Meisenhelder wrote in an emailed statement. The healthcare proposals still include subsidies for childcare, emergency funds, and health insurance for student workers’ dependents, according to Meisenhelder.

“Part of negotiations is finding compromise on both sides between our goals and the administration's goals,” Meisenhelder wrote. “We are still looking at improvements in benefits for student workers.”

Despite the latest development, however, the two sides remained at odds on a sexual harassment and nondiscrimination proposal, along with an economic proposals, according to the union’s email.

“On many remaining issues, the administration has told us ‘we have nothing else to say,’” Meisenhelder wrote. “As long as the administration refuses to negotiate over the health plan or denies student workers a neutral process for cases of discrimination or harassment, we will not be able to come to tentative agreements on these issues.”

The University has proposed “many new benefits” for HGSU-UAW members, University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement.

"This includes the creation of funds totaling more than half a million dollars to assist bargaining unit members in covering the costs of dental and dependent health care, as well as child care,” Swain wrote. “As the negotiations are ongoing, we look forward to continuing to work on these important issues at the bargaining table.”

Swain wrote that the University also offered union representatives seats on several committees that work to make recommendations on these issues — including the University’s Title IX Policy Review Committee and a newly formed task force on mental health — because the University does not want to create separate policies for union and non-union members.

“The University continues to have concerns over HGSU-UAW’s requests that are the equivalent of carving out their membership from other students regarding University policies that affect multiple groups on campus, including healthcare and non-discrimination,” Swain wrote.

Last month, HGSU-UAW threatened to hold a strike authorization vote this fall if stalemates over the sexual harassment and nondiscrimination proposal, wages, and medical benefits are not resolved.

The union wrote in this week’s email update that the current situation “makes clear we will need to continue taking greater action to win a fair contract.”

Before HGSU’s bargaining committee could initiate a strike, its members must hold a strike authorization vote. If the authorization is ratified, it would empower the bargaining committee to initiate a strike, but does not mean that one would necessarily happen.

The two sides have scheduled more than six hours of bargaining for September, according to the union’s email.

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

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

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