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Grad Union Ratifies First-Ever Contract

Harvard’s graduate student union went on strike in December 2019 after months of negotiations with the University.
Harvard’s graduate student union went on strike in December 2019 after months of negotiations with the University. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Davit Antonyan and Meera S. Nair, Crimson Staff Writers

After nearly two years of negotiations and more than five years of union organizing, members of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers voted to ratify the union’s first contract with the University Tuesday.

The contract — which will go into effect for one year on July 1 — was put up to a ratification vote after Harvard and the union reached a tentative agreement on June 16. Nearly 97 percent of student workers voted to approve the contract, the first in University history to provide more than 4,000 student workers at Harvard with workplace protections.

The newly minted agreement provides 2.8 percent raises, new health care and child care funds, and provisions to protect student workers from harassment and discrimination, among other benefits.

Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15, a member of HGSU-UAW’s bargaining committee, said in a press release that the contract’s ratification will usher in necessary protections for students amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Student-workers at Harvard make this university run by teaching courses and conducting cutting-edge research,” Sandalow-Ash said. “It is about time that we have a union contract that ensures we can do that work in a safe environment.”

The one-year contract also guarantees union members paid bereavement and sick days, along with provisions protecting workers’ positions when they take extended unpaid leaves for medical emergencies.

HGSU-UAW members are already gearing up to bargain once again, according to an emailed statement sent out to union members. The University proposed shortening the original multi-year contract to a one-year agreement in early May, citing future economic uncertainty the University faces in light of the pandemic.

Among other provisions, the union’s bargaining team will lobby the University for stronger protections against discrimination and harassment in its next contract — a key point of contention between the University and the union over the past two years, and one of the three proposals that led HGSU-UAW to call a four-week strike in December 2019.

In a statement declaring these demands, some rank-and-file members vowed to continue organizing if Harvard does not respond to their concerns.

“If the administration doesn’t agree to addressing our core concerns in our next contract, we commit to organizing for a strike to win these rights and benefits through collective action,” the statement read.

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at

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