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Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union organizers estimate that more than 50 percent of eligible students have signed union cards, which would put the group above the threshold necessary for the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a union election.
According to HUWU’s internal spreadsheet tracking the card campaign, organizers have collected 111 union authorization cards, 54.1 percent of the estimated 205 eligible undergraduate workers. The organization used shift lists and self-reported data from workers to determine the number of undergraduates eligible to be represented by HUWU.
When the card campaign concludes, organizers will file an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board. After the board verifies the cards and confirms that at least 30 percent of eligible workers have signed them, they will direct an election. Should a majority of eligible workers vote to form a union, HUWU will be officially recognized.
“I’m not really scared about a lack of support,” HUWU organizer Syd D. Sanders ’24 said.
Sanders said HUWU won’t know how many undergraduate student workers it can represent until its card campaign concludes and the board verifies cards.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the total number of undergraduate workers at Harvard.
Organizers are taking what they call a “sector-by-sector” approach to unionization, where they will first attempt to unionize student workers at specific workplaces for an initial contract with the University. After official recognition, organizers plan to submit an “Armour-Globe” petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which would expand union protections to all other undergraduates not included.
According to HUWU, eligible undergrad workplaces include Harvard’s libraries and cafes, the Queen’s Head Pub in Memorial Hall, the Office of BGLTQ+ Student Life, The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, and the Women’s Center.
When HUWU launched publicly in early February, it planned to include library workers only at Widener and Lamont libraries. But anticipating a challenge from the University based on insufficient representation, HUWU expanded last week to include other libraries, including Frances Loeb Library, Houghton Library, and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.
Sanders anticipates Harvard will argue that the number of undergraduate workers is larger than HUWU had assumed in order to reduce the fraction that have signed cards.
“We’re just trying to cover bases, so that whatever the negotiated unit does end up being, we have at least 30 percent of the cards signed,” Sanders said.
“It’s like a strategic game,” he added.
Organizers say they intentionally began unionizing a wide variety of workplaces so they could argue their unit was a good representation of undergraduate student workers as a whole.
“I would say my work is very different than a cafe worker’s, and so we’re saying we’re representative of undergraduate workers at Harvard, and we want to unite all undergraduate workplaces,” said Brit G. Shrader ’23, an intern in the Office of BGLTQ+ Student Life and a HUWU organizer.
“But that’s further down the line,” they added.
Shrader said that while they have had a good experience as a student worker, they don’t have an official contract and they’ve never gotten a raise.
“I was looking through documents and I was like, ‘I don’t really know how I’m employed without having signed any form of recognition of my job,’” they said.
Newton, the University spokesperson, also declined to comment on whether undergraduate workers sign contracts.
Emma H. Lu ’26, a barista at Cafe Gato Rojo and member of Student Labor Action Movement at Harvard said she is supportive of the effort and has already signed a union authorization card.
“People are generally really receptive to the idea of unionizing,” Lu said.
She said she hopes HUWU is able to bargain for a contract that raises their wages and improves transparency from Harvard.
Since the fall semester, organizers said they have been visiting workplaces on campus to talk to undergraduate workers, providing information about their campaign, and most recently, asking workers to sign cards.
“We essentially got to a certain point in our walkthroughs where we felt like we were ready and had already talked to everyone who we needed to talk to to do the card campaign,” Shrader said.
Yet some undergraduate workers say they had not been approached by organizers.
Lamont student media consultant Namira Mehedi ’25 said she didn’t know a lot about the campaign and hadn’t spoken with HUWU organizers, but that she would be open to signing a card.
“I would like to get a little more information about the union policies before I commit to anything, but I would be more open to the idea,” Mehedi said.
Lucy Vuong ’26, who works at the Queen’s Head Pub, said that she remembered seeing HUWU posters around campus, but that she hadn’t been asked about the campaign and did not know if it applied to her.
“I actually didn’t know that these cards existed,” Vuong said.
“I think having student unions is important even if working conditions are good,” she added.
HUWU organizers are hoping to conclude their card campaign and file for an official union election with the National Labor Relations Board by the end of the semester.
—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.
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