FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, June 15, 2020
On behalf of the Harvard Graduate Students Union, United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW):
Lacey Rose, Lacey@617MediaGroup.com, 617-485-4495
Jeff Hall, Jeff@617MediaGroup.com, 617-281-8384
One-year agreement includes victories on discrimination protections, healthcare, and childcare
CAMBRIDGE, MA — Student workers at Harvard University made history today by reaching a tentative union contract agreement with the university administration. If ratified, the union contract would be the first ever for student workers at Harvard, would improve pay and benefits for over 4,000 student workers, and would guarantee health and safety protections in the midst of a pandemic. The Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW) is the largest private-sector student worker union in the country.
The contract would also strengthen protections for student workers against discrimination and harassment, including racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and would include new provisions aimed at increasing job security for international student workers who are facing unprecedented attacks from the Trump administration.
“Harvard’s student workers are essential to the functioning of the university, the education it provides, the research it produces, and the reputation it has,” said the HGSU-UAW bargaining committee in a joint statement. “Having a union contract will improve the work and lives of Harvard’s student workers, and will make Harvard a better university.”
This tentative contract agreement is a major victory not only for the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW), but also for the graduate student worker movement across the country, especially in light of the Trump administration’s efforts to end the right of student workers to bargain under federal law.
Since winning their union over two years ago, student workers at Harvard have applied consistent pressure on Harvard administrators to reach a deal that would guarantee basic workplace rights and protections. Now that a tentative agreement has been reached, student workers will have the opportunity to vote on whether to ratify the contract.
The student workers’ years-long fight included holding protests, rallies, petitions and sit-ins, occupying administrative buildings, and organizing a month-long strike in the midst of December’s finals.
Along with the lives of other workers and people across the world, over the last few months, the lives and research of student workers at Harvard have been upended in unique ways by the coronavirus pandemic. The threat of losing funding has made precarious the living and working situations of many student workers and has increased the urgency for specific guarantees in a union contract.
Student workers across Harvard’s various schools organized for stable pay and benefits during the pandemic and have called on the university to provide certainty around their working conditions by reaching terms on an agreement with the thousands of workers who are members of HGSU-UAW. HGSU-UAW has also been supporting and taking part in solidarity efforts to uplift other workers across campus who have faced similar uncertainties in recent weeks.
The agreed-upon tentative agreement between Harvard and the student workers will provide important measures to create much-needed stability and certainty for Harvard’s student workers in the upcoming year, when many student workers across the country are worried about continued support and funding from their university employers.
In addition to highlighting student workers’ vulnerability, the coronavirus pandemic has accentuated their enormous contributions to education and research. Teaching fellows have had to adapt their methods and material to teach students remotely. Research assistants at Harvard are fighting COVID-19 in many ways — working on sequencing and identifying information about the pathogen, creating testing protocols and implementing them, researching potential treatments and vaccines, and modeling the course of the disease to better understand how to implement effective public health policy.
Under the current circumstances, the tentative contract is being hailed by student workers as a major achievement. It provides important protections and guarantees while laying the groundwork to achieve even greater workplace rights and protections in future contracts.
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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.
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.