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On this Valentine’s Day, as love lingers in the air, the scent of pink flowers pervades the aisles of CVS, and students rejoice after finally receiving their Datamatch picks, Harvard’s non-tenured faculty are gathering on campus to sign a special kind of Valentine’s Day card — a union authorization card.
On February 6, the Harvard Academic Workers-United Automobile Workers announced a public card campaign in pursuit of official union recognition for non-tenure track workers. Their goal? Address long standing grievances related to precarious job security, rising costs of living, inequalities in childcare support, lackluster protections for international workers, and feeble measures against workplace harassment and discrimination.
If they succeed, the union plans to bargain on behalf of non-tenure track faculty and researchers, including postdocs, research associates, lecturers, preceptors, teaching assistants, and others, who all share an eight-year cap on their employment.
The grievances laid out by HAW-UAW are both sound and pressing. As Cambridge rent sours and wages fail to keep pace with crushing inflation, organizers say the yearly salaries of some academic workers remain less than $50,000 in a city where the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,700 — eating away well over half of an annual paycheck.
These stagnant wages are incomprehensible at the richest institution of higher learning in the United States. The University’s spending budget (which somehow includes artisan lawn chairs costing well-over $300) should certainly be able to include liveable salaries for some of its most impactful workers, who shape the academic trajectories of undergraduates from first-year Expository Writing all the way to upper-level concentration requirements — and are thus central to the mission of a university that prides itself not only on research, but on transformative teaching.
Unacceptable, too, is the precarity Harvard’s non-tenure track workers are subjected to. No non-tenured faculty member should have to fear a last-minute change to their employment contract, which the University has recently shown itself capable of enacting even in the case of high-profile researchers. A researcher’s lack of tenure should never be used to forcibly shut down cutting-edge work or initiatives, and the threat of dismissal should not stifle academic freedom.
These legitimate concerns can be addressed through unionization, a process that allows employees to collectively bargain for better working conditions and is generally associated with increases in wages and benefits across industries.
Unionization may also help to empower voices that have historically been barred from academia. Faculty of color occupy a higher percentage of non-tenure track than tenured positions, reflecting an opaque tenure process that we’ve been critical of in the past. We hope that unionization will counter any currents of exclusion and marginalization that may exist at Harvard and give underrepresented faculty more power in the workplace.
For these reasons, and all others named by HAW-UAW organizers, we call on Harvard to voluntarily recognize the union.
For students and members of the Harvard community not directly engaged in the unionization drive, we urge you to get involved. Show your support by attending a rally like those happening today at the Cambridge and Longwood campuses. Reach out and have a conversation with academic workers about their workplace conditions. Most importantly, spread the word. Student support for other unions within this University has helped to amplify their voices in the past; we should not hesitate to express appreciation for the workers who have contributed so immeasurably to our time at Harvard.
To our non-tenured faculty: We stand behind you. Labor deserves love too.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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