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Grad Student Union Files Intent to Bargain for Second Contract with Harvard

Harvard's graduate student union is gearing up to negotiate with the University over its second contract. Its first contract — over which the union went on strike last academic year — expires June 30.
Harvard's graduate student union is gearing up to negotiate with the University over its second contract. Its first contract — over which the union went on strike last academic year — expires June 30. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Cara J. Chang and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s graduate student union filed a notice of intent to bargain with the University Friday, officially launching negotiations for its second contract representing more than 4,000 student employees.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers sent out a bargaining priorities survey and announced the planned filing of the notice of intent in an email to members Thursday. The next day, HGSU-UAW filed with the University and submitted its first information request for data that it will use in bargaining.

“The biggest takeaway from this is that when you file for notice you’ve started a conversation,” HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said.

The union elected its Bargaining Committee for the second contract last December. Nine graduate students from across the University, along with Mancilla, will represent HGSU-UAW in negotiations. Just one member of the group, Statistics Ph.D. candidate Cory W. McCartan, is a holdover from the Bargaining Committee for the union’s first contract.

Now, the union will move into an information gathering phase, sending multiple information requests to the University and gathering data from its membership to determine negotiation priorities, according to HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee member Ash E. Tomaszewski. From there, the union will start drafting proposals in advance of negotiation sessions with Harvard.

“One of the main ways that we build these priorities is from our bargaining survey,” Tomaszewski said. “We really encourage anyone who’s at the University to fill out that bargaining survey, because the more input that we have the more able we are to actually represent the student workers and students in general.”

HGSU-UAW plans to vote on bargaining priorities in early March, according to Mancilla.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed in an emailed statement that Harvard plans to engage in contract discussions with the union later this year.

“The University continues to work with HGSU-UAW on the implementation of the contract that went into effect last July, and we look forward to engaging in the upcoming discussions around its renewal this year,” Swain wrote.

The first contract HGSU-UAW ratified last summer expires June 30. Mancilla said the union will continue to focus on wages, healthcare benefits, and discrimination and harassment procedures — issues that were prominent during the union’s first contract negotiations and problems he said student workers continue to face.

The union conducted the longest graduate student strike in recent history in December 2019 after more than a year of negotiations. When it reached the one-year agreement with Harvard in June, HGSU-UAW vowed to lobby the University for stronger protections against discrimination and harassment in its next contract.

“All of this takes pressure,” Mancilla said. “It takes pressure from organizing. We’ve learned that this year from our multiple engagements with the administration.”

Tomaszewski said the pandemic has raised the importance of job security and health care. Mancilla cited mental health as one example. In addition to their plan to push for more provisions surrounding mental health in the new contract, HGSU-UAW representatives plan to bring up those concerns in a meeting next week with Harvard administrators.

In the meantime, HGSU-UAW is also focusing on increasing membership. Thursday’s union-wide email urged members to encourage friends and colleagues to join the union.

“Having a year under our belt has definitely taught us a lot,” Mancilla said. “We’re going to get the contract we fight for, so it’s absolutely crucial for our student workers to join the union officially in order for us to have the greatest bargaining power come the first negotiating session.”

—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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