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Harvard Grad Student Union Ratifies 4-Year Contract With 70.6% Approval

By Madison A. Shirazi
By Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

A three-day strike, a second strike threat, and eight months of negotiations later, Harvard’s graduate student union ratified a four-year contract with the University in a vote that ended Saturday, with 70.6 percent of voters in support.

According to Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers President Brandon J. Mancilla, 1,917 out of 2,615 total union members participated in the vote, which opened Nov. 18, marking a 73.3 percent turnout rate. The union represents more than 4,900 student workers at Harvard.

This marks the union’s second contract with the University and its first four-year contract. Its first contract — which lasted one year — was ratified in June 2020.

The HGSU-UAW bargaining committee wrote in an emailed statement that the union is “excited” to implement the contract.

“Now that the contract is ratified we enter a new phase in our union’s history,” they wrote. “Though a majority of voters have affirmed the Tentative Agreement, we still have a long road ahead of us. We are excited to enforce our contract on the strongest terms possible.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard is “pleased” that the contract is ratified and plans to work with the union to carry it out.

“This contract reflects the University’s ongoing, strong commitment to our student workers and we are pleased to see it ratified,” he wrote. “We look forward to working with union leadership on its implementation.”

In October, Harvard's grad student union went on strike for three days as contract negotiations dragged on. The two sides reached a tentative agreement Nov. 15, which union members ratified in a vote ending Saturday.
In October, Harvard's grad student union went on strike for three days as contract negotiations dragged on. The two sides reached a tentative agreement Nov. 15, which union members ratified in a vote ending Saturday. By Truong L. Nguyen

The contract includes an initial 5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2021, with 4, 3, and 3 percent raises in the following years of the agreement. Other benefits include an increase in health care funds, 75 percent preventative dental care coverage, pay parity for School of Public Health students, and legal funding that student workers going through the University’s Title IX process can use.

Compared to the nearly 97 percent “yes” vote for its first contract, the second contract’s 70.6 “yes” vote is significantly lower. The tentative agreement lacked two longtime union demands — third party arbitration and agency shop — which created contention among members.

Gregory J. Kehne, a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering and Applied Sciences, said he expected that the contract would have “fairly robust” support but felt “heartened” to see the number of “no” votes.

On Nov. 17, the eve of the ratification vote, some HGSU-UAW leaders and members began a campaign to rally the vote against the contract.

Denish K. Jaswal, a co-chair for the Contract Enforcement and Education Committee who campaigned against the agreement, said she was initially “disappointed” at the contract’s ratification, but started thinking about future plans for organizing.

“We still have to do a lot of work to build our union, and we're going to need all hands on deck,” she said.

Kenneth S. Alyass, a union steward in the History Department, declined to disclose how he voted, but said he believes the union’s non-discrimination and union security demands will be attainable in the future with an expanded membership.

“I think that in the next four years, if we can get to a place where we have over 50 percent membership — really big commitments, especially from the professional and engineering schools — I can imagine a strike that could pressure the University to give in to these demands,” he said.

Oscar Rodrigo Araiza Bravo, a Ph.D. candidate in Physics, said he voted no, but was “happy” to see a clear majority decision from the union.

“We are in a unique position now to run the experiment as to what it means to build union power without having a contract looming on our heads,” he said. “Having consistency and a long-term vision will be a very powerful tool — not only for the bargaining in three years, but also for the future of our union. So I’m very happy that 70 percent of the people agree that this is the experiment that we need to run.”

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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