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Harvard Grad Union Reaches Tentative Workload Agreement With University, Calls for Fully-Funded 'Bridge Year'

Harvard and its graduate student union reached a new agreement related to workload last week.
Harvard and its graduate student union reached a new agreement related to workload last week. By Amanda Y. Su
By Davit Antonyan and Callia A. Chuang, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard and its graduate student union signed a tentative agreement setting a maximum limit on student workers’ weekly hours after a virtual back-and-forth last week, union representative Ege Yumusak ’16 announced in an email to members Thursday.

The new agreement requires that Harvard give student workers “a reasonable amount of time” to complete their job responsibilities, sets a weekly limit on average workload at 20 hours, and ensures the University will compensate student workers for all hours worked, Yumusak wrote.

The union also announced it will ask Harvard to fully fund a “bridge year” for all Ph.D. students to continue research projects interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The workload provision comes after the University asked students not to return to campus last month due to the COVID-19 outbreak, moving classes online and piloting a work-from-home program. Some graduate students reported increased workloads in the wake of the changes, according to Yumusak’s email.

“From arranging external speakers, addressing tech issues, and creating whole new curricula, to sometimes being asked to take over the lectures of a course, we are feeling the impact of not having contract protections,” Yumusak wrote.

The new agreement also follows a two-month stalemate in negotiations during which the University and the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers reached no new agreements. The two sides last reached agreements in a February negotiation session, drawing up tentative contract provisions on holidays, employee assistance, and parking and transportation benefits.

Last month, HGSU-UAW alleged in an email to members that the University had asked to suspend bargaining in the wake of the pandemic — a claim which Harvard denied.

In Thursday’s email to members, the union called on the University to grant Ph.D. students the fully-funded “COVID-19 bridge year.”

“Due to COVID-19, doctoral students across campus are unable to run experiments, travel for fieldwork, or otherwise make progress on our research,” Yumusak wrote.

In partnership with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council, the union “spearheaded” an open letter to GSAS Dean Emma Dench advocating for the initiative.

According to the letter, the proposed bridge year would guarantee students an additional year of funding for research — independent of any external funding they may have already received — as well as healthcare and facilities fee waivers. It also asks for accommodations for students currently taking or applying to dissertation completion fellowships and “generous extensions” for students completing their qualifications or generals.

Yumusak cited the University’s new policy allowing tenure-track faculty one-year appointment extensions and promotion review postponements as a basis for the bridge year request.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the University is committed to continuing bargaining sessions in the future. He declined to comment on the bridge year request.

“The University is continuing to work with the federal mediator and HGSU-UAW to confirm a date for the next negotiation session,” Swain wrote.

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at

—Staff writer Callia A. Chuang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @calliaachuang.

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