Harvard Unions Respond to School Closures Due to Coronavirus


Three of Harvard's labor unions are forming contingency plans and cancelling events after Harvard announced Tuesday that it would send undergraduates home for the remainder of the semester and hold classes online due to the global coronavirus outbreak.

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers — the largest union on campus — is working to ensure its members do not lose pay should the University further shutter its operations, according to HUCTW President Carrie Barbash.

“We want to ensure that no members experience any kind of pay loss as a result of choices Harvard is making about staying open or closing, and that everyone has adequate sick time to either care for themselves or their family members,” Barbash said.

The Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union, meanwhile, is preparing for a tumultuous week ahead as students move out from their dorms.


HUSPMGU President Curt E. Rheault said the union would be treating the remaining five days like the end of a traditional school year.

“On the parking side, we’re considered essential personnel, so we’ve been asked to treat this week as the move-out for everybody,” he said.

Rheault added he is concerned the closure could cause “about 60% of our overtime to be gone.”

Harvard’s graduate student union cancelled its scheduled work-in on Thursday and announced it would stop holding mass events following a University-wide email announcing that classes will move online beginning March 23. The announcement comes amid contentious contract negotiations between the University and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers.

HGSU-UAW wrote in an email to members that it would remain committed to addressing the needs of its members, even as Harvard prepares to move online.

In the email, the union demanded Harvard ensure that student workers not lose pay amid the closure; provide paid sick leave; address their immigration concerns; cover the costs of coronavirus testing for them; and reimburse their travel expenses.

“We have drafted a list of steps the administration should take to immediately protect the health and well-being of student workers,” the email read.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain said the University is working to address a number of concerns raised in the union's email related to the threat of coronavirus.

“As President Bacow stated in his message to the community, the decision announced today by the University around virtual instruction is aimed at limiting exposure of members of our community to the coronavirus,” Swain said. “There are a wide range of concerns the University is working to address in the coming days and weeks related to this decision and the ongoing public health emergency, among those are some that were also raised by HGSU-UAW.”

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at