October 26, 2019

Harvard Student Workers Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike

University’s Refusal to Provide Fair Protections from Harassment and Discrimination, other Provisions Leads to Largest-Ever Student Worker Strike Vote at Private University

Cambridge, MA – Student workers of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW (HGSU-UAW) voted by an overwhelming 2425 to 254 to authorize a strike if the union bargaining committee deems it necessary to win a fair first contract.  Since contract negotiations began more than a year ago, the union representing 4,000 student workers has called for comprehensive and affordable healthcare, fair pay, and common-sense protections from harassment and discrimination.

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.

The vote is the largest student worker strike ever at a private university. Student workers will announce a strike deadline in the coming weeks if the Harvard administration fails to make real movement towards a contract that addresses these priorities.

“With this overwhelming vote to authorize a strike, we’re sending a clear message to the administration that as student workers, we are willing to take action,” said Noah Toyonaga, a Research Assistant in Physics. “Harvard’s unwillingness to agree to key protections from harassment and discrimination is unconscionable, given how prevalent these problems are. The time is now for the Harvard administration to step up and agree to the protections that we deserve.”

“As a graduate student worker, I feel that the university needs to take our concerns about our working conditions seriously,” said Olivia Woldemikael, a Teaching Fellow in Government. “We are voting to authorize a strike because student workers need basic rights and protections — and we need them now. This vote is a show of solidarity and we will stand together to win a strong contract.”

“Harvard student workers have sent a clear, decisive message and the University administration should listen,” said Beverley Brakeman, Director of UAW Region 9A. “We will continue to stand with and do everything necessary to support these workers until they achieve the justice they deserve in a fair contract.”

Today’s announcement comes just days after a sexual misconduct survey released by the American Association of Universities showed that 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 harassment.

The services provided by more than 4,000 Harvard University student workers include teaching and groundbreaking research. Faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students all rely on these services by student workers.

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.