Harvard’s graduate student union appears to be headed toward its second strike in two years.
On Wednesday, the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers threatened a three-day strike beginning Oct. 27 if the University does not move closer to the union’s demands. Negotiations between the University and the union have stalled on issues including compensation, benefits, and procedures for handling harassment and discrimination complaints.
“Just this morning, at our second federally mediated session, Harvard once again showed insufficient interest in moving towards us on key rights or fair compensation even as we made major moves to get closer to a deal,” the union’s bargaining committee wrote to its members Wednesday.
In late September, HGSU-UAW voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike — with 91.67 percent of its voting members in support of the move. Until Wednesday, the union had not set a deadline for a strike.
HGSU-UAW previously went on strike for nearly four weeks in December 2019 following more than a year of bargaining with the University. Similar to the current snag in negotiations, the two were at odds over compensation and harassment grievance policies. HGSU-UAW is calling on the University to offer its members an option for independent arbitration on discrimination and sexual harassment complaints.
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday evening that a strike this month would be “unwarranted” as Harvard remains committed to reaching an agreement.
“Following HGSU-UAW’s agreement to the University’s proposal for mediation, two sessions have been held with the federal mediator and we feel progress has been made in key areas,” he wrote. “The University continues to engage in these negotiations in good faith and we are optimistic that we can continue to build on the progress made through this mediation and our six months of negotiations.”
The next mediation session will occur on Oct. 20 — currently the only scheduled meeting before the strike deadline. HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said in an interview that the union has asked for additional sessions.
“After we told them about the strike deadline of the 27th, the University seemed open to that,” Mancilla said. “We’re hoping to have more dates so that we can keep working at this agreement.”
Despite the bargaining committee’s disappointment in negotiations, Mancilla said he believes Wednesday’s meeting with the University suggested reaching a deal will be possible.
“That is why the deadline is set — because we think we can make progress by talking,” he said. “It’s not a sign of us wanting to stop.”
HGSU-UAW hopes faculty members will stand in solidarity with graduate students by respecting the picket line and refraining from holding campus events, according to Mancilla. Undergraduate students will be encouraged to walk out of class and join the picket line.
“The idea here is to be disruptive,” Mancilla said. “It is to show the University how essential we are to the daily operations of the University’s educational mission, so anyone else who is part of that mission is more than welcome on our picket lines.”
The strike would coincide with the College’s freshman family weekend and midterm exams, a move Mancilla said would allow the strike to “be as disruptive as possible.”
He emphasized that the union is committed to reaching a contract with the University before the strike deadline.
“We’re still committed to reaching an agreement with the University before that,” Mancilla said. “And if we don’t, they will see the full extent of withdrawing our labor power.”
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