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Group of More Than 3,000 Harvard Faculty Files for Union Recognition

Many of Harvard's main academic and administrative buildings are seated in Harvard Yard. Thousands of non-tenure-track faculty at Harvard filed for official union recognition Friday.
Many of Harvard's main academic and administrative buildings are seated in Harvard Yard. Thousands of non-tenure-track faculty at Harvard filed for official union recognition Friday. By Marina Qu
By Aran Sonnad-Joshi and Sheerea X. Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated March 6, 2024, at 1:06 p.m.

Harvard Academic Workers-United Auto Workers filed for official union recognition with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday.

HAW-UAW — which boasts 3,100 members — first launched their card campaign in February 2023. The filing comes after just more than one year, the typical union card expiration date.

To petition for union recognition with the NLRB, a group must gather signatures from at least 30 percent of its potential bargaining unit. HAW-UAW’s unit includes non-tenure-track faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Law School Clinical, as well as postdoctoral researchers at the University.

Though the union has requested an election in early April, the exact date remains dependent on the case’s progression.

HAW-UAW rank-and-file member Koby Ljunggren — who formerly served as president of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers — said if the case goes to hearings with the University, it could take six to seven months for an election to be held.

“If you make things take a long time, the union will slowly lose support — not because people don’t support it anymore, but because people leave their jobs and then new people get hired, and then organizers have to talk to the new people,” Ljunggren said. “If you drag the timeline out a long time, you can see how it can sort of de-mobilize a very excited base.”

“We do not want to drag this out for seven months,” they added. “That would suck really bad, and I think the University knows that.”

Though HAW-UAW planned to file for union recognition earlier this month, the move was delayed as discussions with the University dragged on.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that “the University continues to engage in productive discussions with HAW representatives about a potential stipulated election agreement.”

“If the parties are not able to reach an agreement, the National Labor Relations Board will determine the next steps in the process,” Newton added.

HAW-UAW intends to bargain with Harvard if they win union recognition from the NLRB.

J. Gregory Given, a lecturer at HDS and a HAW-UAW organizer, said the group is “moving forward with this election” before returning to “talk all together as coworkers here about what we want those bargain priorities to be.”

According to Given, HAW-UAW’s priorities include compensation, job security, and workplace protections.

“On the whole, we just simply do not get paid enough,” Given said. “Wages and cost of living, I’m sure, is a major priority that a lot of us share.”

Some HAW-UAW members pointed to Harvard’s “time cap” policy as a point of contention. Under the policy, Harvard hires non-tenure track faculty for periods of three, five, or eight years. After the completion of their contracted term, the faculty are required to depart their post.

Leslie J. Fernandez, a lecturer in Asian American Studies, wrote in an HAW-UAW press release that the time cap creates a “looming countdown” that “makes it difficult to commit to building a future at Harvard.”

“I was hired on a three-year contract,” Fernandez wrote. “I will lose my job at the end of that time period, regardless of my performance.”

The time cap “hinders my capacity to build long-term mentoring relationships with my students, who regularly have to deal with the churn of lecturers in their fields,” they added.

—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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