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Harvard Proposes One-Year Contract With Grad Union At Remote Bargaining Session

Harvard's graduate student union led a strike last December.
Harvard's graduate student union led a strike last December. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Callia A. Chuang, Crimson Staff Writer

During a virtual bargaining session with its graduate student union Friday, Harvard proposed creating a one-year contract that addresses compensation and health care provisions, according to email updates from both parties.

The proposed contract reiterates Harvard’s original offers: granting student workers a 2.8 percent wage increase and establishing funds for health and dental insurance and child care, associate provost Doreen Koretz and director of employee and labor relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an emailed announcement Friday.

Koretz and Curran wrote that the University decided to shorten a multi-year agreement to a one-year pact “due to the economic uncertainty for future fiscal years” in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The reality of the University’s economic position does impact our negotiations with HGSU-UAW,” Koretz and Curran wrote. “This was not a decision the University made lightly.”

Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers is considering the University’s offer, union representative Justin Bloesch wrote in an email update to members Monday.

“We are waiting to hear about more dates from the administration and are evaluating these changes,” Bloesch wrote.

Friday’s development follows nearly a full academic year of bargaining sessions between the union and the University. In early December, the union went on strike over three key issues: compensation, health insurance, and discrimination and sexual harassment procedures.

But after nearly four weeks on the picket line, the student workers returned to work without a contract on January 1, enlisting a federal mediator to facilitate bargaining. Despite agreeing to several other tentative provisions since then, the two parties remain in gridlock over HGSU-UAW’s three key demands.

In their Friday message, Koretz and Curran wrote that the University “continues to have concerns” about the union's demand for a “traditional labor arbitration” procedure for allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination.

“As we have shared previously, among other things, the University believes the proposal would not be consistent with current or proposed federal Title IX regulations in that it would create a separate process for HGSU-UAW members that is not available to other members of the Harvard community,” they wrote.

Before Friday’s bargaining session, the union and the University had engaged in one remote bargaining session, on March 25, since Harvard closed its campus and switched to remote instruction due to the coronavirus outbreak. The union has expressed concerns about graduate students’ workload, health care, and research funding amid the public health crisis, and graduate students have called on the University to provide them with a fully-funded “COVID-19 bridge year” to compensate them for research projects disrupted by the pandemic.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Harvard guaranteed regular pay and benefits to University employees through June 28, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences launched an Emergency Support Initiative to provide funding and fellowship opportunities to students impacted by COVID-19.

Still, the University faces numerous economic challenges in light of the pandemic. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences was unable to cover its budget for Fiscal Year 2020 due to experiencing $30 million in losses related to the outbreak.

In March, HGSU-UAW alleged Harvard asked to suspend bargaining for several weeks while the University reevaluated its financial situation — a claim Harvard denied.

Koretz and Curran wrote Friday that Harvard is evaluating the unfolding financial obstacles posed by the pandemic as it continues negotiations with the union.

“In the face of the very real challenges brought to the University and the wider community by the global pandemic, these offers, which come at a time when many other University employees are undergoing a salary freeze, represent the limit of the University’s capacity for salary increases and financial support to student workers at this time,” Koretz and Curran wrote.

Correction: May 5, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvard was unable to cover its budget for Fiscal Year 2020 due to experiencing $30 million in losses related to the outbreak. In fact, it was the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

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

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