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Roughly 92% of Voters Authorize Grad Student Union Strike

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ Elections Committee members counted paper ballots for the union’s strike authorization vote Thursday night.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ Elections Committee members counted paper ballots for the union’s strike authorization vote Thursday night. By Meimei Xu
By Cara J. Chang and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s graduate student union voted overwhelmingly to authorize what would be its second strike in two years, union officials announced late Thursday.

Out of the 2,029 members who cast ballots, 1,860 of them — 91.67 percent of voters — authorized a strike, easily clearing the two-thirds majority required. Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’s Bargaining Committee can now move to call for a strike at any time.

“We expect this to send a message, a strong message to Harvard that the way that things have gone at the table to this point, even when there have been improvements, have not been enough yet,” HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said in an interview following the vote count.

HGSU-UAW went on strike in December 2019 after two years of bargaining for its first contract with the University. Roughly 90 percent of voters authorized that strike, and five weeks later, student workers headed to the picket lines.

This month’s strike authorization vote comes after nearly six months of contract negotiations between the union and the University. HGSU-UAW is calling on Harvard to allow independent arbitration for discrimination and sexual harassment complaints, as well as raise compensation and benefits in their second contract.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement Thursday evening that Harvard believes a strike is “unwarranted” in light of the University’s most recent proposals.

“The University feels a strike is unwarranted given the progress the two sides have made in recent weeks, including the University proposing $14 million in increases above the previous contract’s compensation and benefits levels, and the option to use third-party arbitration to appeal non-Title IX harassment and discrimination claims,” Newton wrote.

While the union saw those proposals as a “far more substantial offer,” the Bargaining Committee does not plan to accept them, according to Mancilla.

The strike authorization results were announced just after 8:15 p.m. to a small crowd of graduate students in Emerson Hall. Electronic and paper ballot voting ran from Sept. 13 until Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Union members said the voter turnout and vote result exemplified the strength of their organizing.

HGSU-UAW trustee Zeke P. Benshirim, who attended the vote count and announcement, wrote in a statement that he was “thrilled” to see many of his peers voting.

“This is what democracy looks like on our campus,” he wrote. “But it’s also just the beginning: the next steps our union takes will call for even more engagement and collective decision-making, not less.”

HGSU-UAW steward Harrison T. Reeder wrote in a statement that he was impressed that 386 student workers joined the union during the vote.

“The fact that almost 400 new members joined during the SAV to vote is incredible, and speaks both to how much energy went into turning out student workers to vote, as well as how much energy there is to push for our core issues and back up the result,” he wrote.

In an email to faculty and staff on Monday, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay asked her colleagues to “plan ahead for how you would manage the potential disruption a strike could cause.”

Gay also reminded faculty that they are not allowed to ask student workers about the strike before HGSU-UAW officially calls for one.

According to the Office of the Provost’s website, student workers who go on strike would not be paid.

HGSU-UAW “unequivocally condemn[ed]” the University’s statements in an email to its membership Monday night.

“We are disappointed that the administration, instead of meeting to make progress in negotiations, sends communications that seek to intimidate us from participating in collective action, pit student workers with different funding plans against each other, and scare student workers,” the HGSU-UAW Executive Board wrote.

The union and the University finalized plans Thursday to continue negotiations with a federal mediator and will meet every Wednesday for the next three weeks, according to Mancilla.

HGSU-UAW member Jennifer L. Cruz said she felt “very excited” that the union authorized a strike.

“We’ve always been waiting to see what the University’s next move is,” Cruz said. “But now we have something that we can put against that, if we need to.”

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meimeixu7.

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