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After launching a public card campaign to unionize Harvard’s non-tenure-track faculty on Feb. 6, Harvard Academic Workers-United Automobile Workers held their first public rallies Tuesday.
More than 100 students, faculty, and public officials attended rallies in Harvard Yard and at the Longwood campus, where HAW-UAW organizers urged attendees to sign union authorization cards.
“Harvard has the capacity to treat us fairly and it chooses not to,” Harvard Extension School instructor Michaela J. Thompson said in a speech in Harvard Yard. “At every turn, we have been shown time and time again that they do not care if we are underpaid, undersupported, and overworked.”
HAW-UAW is demanding a contract with the University that ensures higher compensation, job security, and broader workplace protections.
Many non-tenure-track faculty — a group which includes lecturers, postdoctoral fellows, preceptors, and adjunct faculty — face “time caps” on their employment, limiting them to a certain number of years at Harvard depending on their position.
Thompson, who timed out of her role as a preceptor in June 2022, said in a speech that time caps are arbitrary limits not based on job performance.
“Timing out means that I was fired,” she said.
Yiddish preceptor and rally organizer Sara M. Feldman said that organizers were told before and during the Covid-19 pandemic that the time cap system is a way to keep the curriculum and teaching fresh.
“We were told that it was necessary for nimbleness — that we are expected to burn out and need replacing because we will be so exhausted at our jobs,” she said.
Non-tenure-track faculty also spoke about being unable to afford adequate child care or rent without having roommates, adding that they are not provided with dental insurance.
“$50 billion endowment and you can’t give us dental, Harvard?” Thompson said.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment.
In addition to members of Harvard’s unions, organizers from other universities and workplaces joined Tuesday’s rallies, including members of Boston University Graduate Workers Union, MIT Graduate Student Union, Alphabet Workers Union, and the Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union.
“It’s important to have friends, especially given that the climate at Harvard hasn’t been very friendly to unions,” Feldman said. “But the unions are each other’s friends, and we have each other’s backs.”
Organizers from Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers paused their regular informational picketing campaign to join Tuesday’s rally in Harvard Yard.
“I just want to say that we have been standing beside you guys side-by-side doing this important work that we have here at Harvard University,” said HUCTW Vice President Natasha S. Williams.
Local politicians including Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok ’11, Somerville City Council President and Harvard postdoc Ben S. Ewen-Campen and Massachusetts state representatives Mike Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven spoke at the rallies, calling on Harvard to voluntarily recognize HAW-UAW.
“I call on them to work with the leaders of this union and to recognize you as you organize and to negotiate with you and not to intimidate or throw up roadblocks,” Connolly said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) publicly endorsed HAW-UAW’s unionization campaign on social media.
Thomas A. Dichter ’08, a lecturer in History and Literature, read a statement of support from Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at the Longwood rally.
“I applaud the workers exercising their right to organize and stay engaged with their coworkers in this most fundamental exercise in democracy,” Markey’s statement read.
Harvard may choose to voluntarily recognize HAW-UAW should it gain majority approval from non-tenure-track employees. Otherwise, if 30 percent of non-tenure-track employees sign authorization cards, HAW-UAW may petition the National Labor Relations Board for a union election, which requires a majority vote to certify the union.
“When I look out into the crowd, I can see a future where there is a union in every workplace at Harvard, a future where there is a union in every workplace in Massachusetts, and a future where there is a union in every workplace everywhere,” said HGSU-UAW organizer Alexandra C. Stanton.
Correction: February 15, 2023
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Harvard Extension School instructor Michaela J. Thompson.
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