November 5, 2019

Harvard Student Workers Set December 3 Strike Deadline

University Continues to Deny Fair Contract Provisions on Harassment Protections, Healthcare, Compensation

Cambridge, MA – The Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW (HGSU-UAW) bargaining committee today announced a strike deadline of December 3rd, following the student workers’ overwhelming 2,425 to 254 vote (90.4% in favor) to authorize a strike. The October strike authorization vote was the largest vote of its kind at a private university. Eighteen (18) months after HGSU-UAW formed its union and Harvard agreed to negotiate, the administration has failed to make real movement toward a contract that addresses the union’s core priorities which include: comprehensive and affordable healthcare, fair pay, and common-sense protections from harassment and discrimination.

If Harvard fails to meet the December deadline, student workers across the university will strike, which would impact every department. Teaching fellows and research assistants would withhold all paid work, including holding sections and office hours, administering exams, grading work, and completing research. Faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students rely on the many services provided by Harvard’s 4,000+ student workers.

“It has been eighteen months since student workers voted to unionize,” said Simge Topaloglu in Psychology. “But Harvard continues to refuse to agree to a fair contract. This has gone on too long. #TimesUp, Harvard. We need a contract now.”

“Our overwhelming vote in favor of strike authorization showed we are united in our demands for a fair contract. That should have prompted the necessary urgency for Harvard to act,” said Erik Baker in the History of Science program. “Unfortunately, the administration seems content to ignore student workers’ call for adequate protections from harassment or discrimination, fair pay, and comprehensive healthcare.”

Despite rallies, petitions, and a sit-in, Harvard administrators have disregarded student workers’ calls for a strong and comprehensive contract. Student workers at Harvard often struggle to afford the cost of living in Cambridge and Boston, and the university’s healthcare plan is inadequate for many student workers — particularly those with chronic illnesses and those who seek mental healthcare. The Harvard administration has refused to provide protections against harassment and discrimination, even though other unions on campus have secured these protections in their contracts. In addition to broad support on campus, national figures have endorsed HGSU-UAW’s demands for a fair contract — including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley and Dr. Angela Davis. This week, the Cambridge City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on the Administration to reach an agreement with the union.

In October, the American Association of Universities released a sexual misconduct survey that showed rates of sexual harassment and assault at Harvard have not decreased in four years, and that less than half of Harvard students surveyed trust the Title IX office to conduct a fair investigation if they report experiencing unwanted sexual contact. The survey is significant to the current contract negotiations between the University and the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW because the results highlight the pervasiveness of the problem and validate student workers’ argument for a neutral process for reporting and processing harassment and discrimination claims.

The HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee believes that a strike can be avoided but only if the administration is willing to put in the time and make moves to bargain for a fair contract before the deadline.

Harvard student workers from all departments joined together in April 2018 to form HGSU-UAW. They are fighting for fair pay, comprehensive and affordable healthcare, and key protections from harassment and discrimination, guaranteed through a union contract.

About UAW
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) is one of the largest and most diverse unions in North America, with members in virtually every sector of the economy. UAW-represented workplaces range from multinational corporations, small manufacturers and state and local governments to colleges and universities, hospitals and private non-profit organizations. The UAW has more than 430,000 active members and more than 580,000 retired members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The UAW represents roughly 80,000 higher education workers nationally, including 18,000 postdoctoral researchers, adjunct professors, and graduate workers in the Northeast who have chosen UAW representation in the last five years.