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After Unionization, Harvard Undergrads are Preparing to Bargain

Undergraduate student workers rallied in Harvard Yard in last April. The Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union is preparing to negotiate their first contract with the University.
Undergraduate student workers rallied in Harvard Yard in last April. The Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union is preparing to negotiate their first contract with the University. By Elias J. Schisgall
By Aran Sonnad-Joshi and Sheerea X. Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Following a successful vote to unionize last October, the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union-United Auto Workers has begun preparing for negotiations.

HUWU-UAW — which represents both undergraduate and graduate students working in food service, libraries, and offices at Harvard — passed with 153 out of 154 votes in favor of unionizing, joining the growing national wave of undergraduate unionization over the past eight years.

The union’s recently elected bargaining committee — which includes undergraduate and graduate workers across all sectors — has started training under the guidance of UAW members to prepare for upcoming negotiations with University lawyers and officials.

Organizers attended a full-day training session on Jan. 27, which Syd D. Sanders ’24, an organizer for HUWU-UAW and a member of the bargaining committee, called “pretty straightforward.”

During the session, the group “talked through the process,” as well as the “linguistics and the legal terminology, what we’re allowed to bargain for, what we’re not, how meetings work, strategies,” Sanders said.

The undergraduate students on the bargaining committee will also be joined at the bargaining table by UAW members including Koby Ljunggren, the former president of Harvard Graduate Student Union-UAW and an advisor for HUWU-UAW.

To guide negotiations and strategy, HUWU-UAW organizers distributed a survey to collect union members’ requests and demands.

Olivia G. Pasquerella ’26, a member of the HUWU-UAW bargaining committee, said the survey was a way to gauge the priorities of rank-and-file members.

“We just wanted to hear from other workers that maybe aren’t in the bargaining committee themselves what their experience is like in their jobs,” said Pasquerella, a Crimson magazine editor.

Some survey topics included hiring practices, what constitutes a fireable offense, the amount of break time, accessibility, and workplace harassment.

HUWU-UAW rank-and-file member Lucy H. Vuong ’26 praised the bargaining committee’s efforts to include all union members in the preparation process.

“I do think that it has been an incredibly clear process and inclusive process for everyone, even people that aren’t directly involved with HUWU’s bargaining committee,” Vuong, a Crimson multimedia editor, said.

Pasquerella said two top priorities for the union are pay increases “across the board” and “better scheduling practices,” including assurance of a job’s existence and of continued employment in the next semester.

The union will bring proposals to the bargaining table, where they will likely meet with representatives from Harvard’s Office of Labor and Employee Relations and the University’s lawyers.

“We’ll do non-economic stuff first, so like sexual harassment protection, scheduling, hiring, onboarding tips,” Sanders said. “We can then end with the wages so that they can’t just try to pay us off.”

HUWU-UAW organizers also plan to request worker information from the University to increase participation in a bargaining goals vote and inform the union’s negotiation.

“​​In addition to the demand for bargaining, we’ll submit what’s an initial RFI, or request for information. What’s really important for that bargaining goals vote is that we are able to inform every unit member,” Ljunggren said. “That first request for information will give us — hopefully — the worker information that we need to be able to contact people.”

According to Sanders, the University has historically been reluctant to share information with student unions, including lists of student workers eligible for the union.

“We have to hassle with the school for every information piece that we want and we are legally entitled to,” Sanders said.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that “we look forward to the opening of good faith negotiations with Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union.”

Newton wrote that the process will begin with “working to provide appropriate and accurate information on the bargaining unit, as required, according to National Labor Relations Act rules.”

Austin Siebold ’23, a former HUWU-UAW organizer, pointed to the “exciting opportunity” for Harvard students as “undergrad unions are relatively new.”

Siebold said that because the students “get to be one of the first on a very public stage that is Harvard,” it “could mean that concessions that get made at this bargaining table become that much easier to get at other universities.”

Siebold also pointed to the broader significance of the union’s first bargaining process and contract with the University.

“We’re negotiating for a relatively small unit right now that seems like it will expand in the future,” he said. “Harvard is aware of how high the stakes are.”

—Staff writer Aran Sonnad-Joshi can be reached at Follow him on X @asonnadjoshi.

—Staff writer Sheerea X. Yu can be reached at Follow her on X @_shuhree_.

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