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Harvard, Grad Student Union Enter Arbitration Over Exclusion of Human Evolutionary Bio Students from Union

Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology Department is housed on the fifth floor of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology Department is housed on the fifth floor of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard and its graduate student union have entered arbitration this month for a grievance filed by the union urging the University to include graduate students from its Department of Human Evolutionary Biology in the union.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, which initially filed the grievance on June 30, 2021, argues that the excluded HEB students perform research that contributes to the work of their principal investigator — and therefore conduct work that would be compensated under the contract.

The group represented by the union includes all students who provide instructional services and who serve as research assistants, “regardless of funding sources, including those compensated through Training Grants,” according to Article 1 of the contract.

Some HEB students receive a stipend, which counts as financial aid, but do not receive compensation. According to University spokesperson Jason A. Newton, students who are receiving a stipend only for financial aid and are not performing work for the University are not included in the union’s bargaining unit, and performing research for one’s academic work does not amount to providing a service for the University.

In the presence of a mediator, Harvard and the union will conduct arbitration hearings until October 2023, after which the mediator will make a decision about the grievance.

During a May 10 rally in Harvard Yard, union leaders, including then-HGSU-UAW president Koby D. Ljunggren, attended the first arbitration meeting to discuss the inclusion of HEB workers in the bargaining unit.

HEB students first contacted the union’s Contract Enforcement and Education Committee, according to Sal E. Suri, a CEEC member and a third-year Ph.D. candidate in History of Science.

“Despite doing the same work as other student workers in other science departments, they have been told they do not qualify to be in unit,” Suri said at the rally last week.

“These student workers have no access to our benefit funds. They don’t have access to the collective security of our union. In response to this decision by the Harvard administration, CEEC has decided to fight this as much as humanly possible,” Suri said.

Though the grievance was first filed in June 2021, both the University and its union had agreed to extend the timeline of the grievance process.

In March 2023, a National Labor Relations Board official ruled that MIT graduate fellows cannot be included in MIT Graduate Student Union-United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America because fellows receive funding in exchange for their own academic work, not as compensation for work for MIT.

According to Ljunggren, who is set to take on a part-time organizing position with HUWU and Graduate Employees of Northeastern University-United Automobile Workers, “Harvard’s attempts to exclude certain workers from our unit” include denying them the guarantee of a yearly raise.

“Although the University has typically followed through on that promise of yearly raises, if people aren’t covered by the contract, there’s not really much of a guarantee,” they added.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

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