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Grad Student Union Files Unfair Labor Practice Charges Against Harvard Over Encampment Response

The pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard ended on Tuesday. Harvard's graduate students union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Harvard's response to the encampment constituted unfair labor practices.
The pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard ended on Tuesday. Harvard's graduate students union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Harvard's response to the encampment constituted unfair labor practices. By Jina H. Choe
By Aran Sonnad-Joshi, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers filed unfair labor practice charges against Harvard on Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the University’s response to the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard violated the rights of student workers.

In an email sent to union members on Wednesday, the HGSU-UAW executive board accused Harvard of “discrimination” and “suppression of protected concerted activity.” The executive board wrote that by placing protesters on involuntary leaves — which are likely to be retracted now that the encampment has ended — the University left them without food and financial aid and put at least one union member at risk of deportation.

In the filing, HGSU-UAW also accused Harvard of surveillance. On Monday, Harvard University Police Department officers entered the encampment and took pictures of protestors.

“The way that we see it is any kind of disciplinary action leveled at student workers that implicates their ability to work and their employment at the University as a student worker is a labor issue,” HGSU President Bailey A. Plaman said.

Plaman alleged that Harvard also discriminated against workers by being “invested in the genocide in Gaza.”

“This discriminates against and creates a hostile work environment for Arab, Muslim, and especially Palestinian student workers,” Plaman said. “Student workers were disciplined for protesting these unfair and unsafe working conditions which we see as discrimination for exercising their right to protest which is protected by the NLRB, and discrimination for their political beliefs, which are protected by our contract with the University.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that the University had communicated to the union its position that unfair labor practices had not taken place.

“We do not believe participating in the encampment occupation that occurred in Harvard Yard is related to student worker working conditions and as such is not a protected activity under the NLRA or the parties’ collective bargaining agreement,” Newton wrote.

The involuntary leave notices, which were first delivered to students on Friday and Saturday morning, came just days before all students — except those granted additional housing through Commencement — were required to be moved out of their Harvard campus housing for the summer.

Still, HGSU-UAW alleged that “involuntary leave directly impacts current and future employment.”

Involuntary leave operates parallel to any action taken by Harvard’s Administrative Boards — the primary disciplinary bodies of each of the University’s schools. More than 60 students have been called before their respective Ad Boards, and interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 announced that he would ask schools to “promptly initiate applicable reinstatement proceedings for all individuals who have been placed on involuntary leaves of absence.”

HGSU-UAW leadership claimed that Harvard violated workers’ Weingarten rights by denying students access to union representation during Administrative Board proceedings. According to the NLRB, Weingarten rights are “employees’ right to request their representatives” in investigatory meetings.

Over the past year, HGSU-UAW has consistently organized around the war in Israel and Gaza.

In November, the union endorsed national union statements in support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement. In March, HGSU-UAW’s general membership voted to endorse a letter circulated by the union’s BDS caucus that called on Harvard to “conduct an inquiry into investments in companies and ties with institutions profiting from the ongoing attacks in Gaza, to disclose these ties publicly, and to divest from them immediately.”

In a statement to The Crimson last week, the HGSU-UAW Executive Board wrote, “We consider any organizing by student workers around these resolutions an exercise of concerted activity and mutual aid, which is federally protected by the National Labor Relations Act.”

Correction: May 16, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote from interim Harvard President Alan Garber about the process for reinstating students from involuntary leave.

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

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