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Bacow Hopeful Grad Student Strike Can be Avoided as Deadline Looms

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With the threat of a strike looming, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said Wednesday he remains hopeful Harvard can reach an agreement with its graduate student union to avoid a second walkout in two years.

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers threatened to initiate a three-day strike on Oct. 27 if no agreement is reached with the University beforehand. Contract negotiations between Harvard and the union have stalled after seven months over issues including sexual harassment grievance policies and compensation.

Bacow said in an interview Wednesday that the University has collaborated with the graduate student union and plans to continue negotiating.

“We’ve made progress on many issues, and I certainly don’t think a strike is needed in order to come to agreement,” Bacow said. “It’s my hope and expectation that we will reach an agreement without a strike.”

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Union leaders are less confident.

“We’re pretty far apart on some of the major issues that have been consistently negotiated out over at the bargaining table,” HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said in an interview Thursday.

Just one bargaining session remains before the Oct. 27 deadline, with another scheduled for that day.

“We’ll continue to negotiate in good faith as we have all along,” Bacow said. “And I believe that if both sides continue to negotiate in good faith, we’ll come to a contractual agreement. I think the University has, actually, a very good record of reaching agreements and labor contracts with all of its other unions.”

“I see no reason why we can’t reach one,” he added.

The deadlocked negotiations come less than two years after HGSU-UAW went on strike for 29 days in December 2019.

The University has long resisted the graduate student union’s calls to allow victims of sexual harassment the option of independent arbitration, arguing the move would violate federal Title IX regulations by providing inequitable processes for union and non-union students. Harvard has previously offered a plan that would allow student workers the ability to appeal cases not involving sexual harassment or gender-based claims to third-party arbitrators.

Mancilla said Thursday that the two sides remain “very far apart” on harassment procedures.

He also said the three-day strike, which would fall on the College’s freshman parents weekend, would result in “lots of disruption” if a deal is not reached.

“We, for all intensive purposes, are planning to be as public and as loud as possible during these days,” Mancilla said.

The University has been engaged in preparations for a possible strike since August.

Harvard is also in contract negotiations with two other unions — Service Employees International Union 32BJ and Harvard University Security, Parking and Museum Guards Union.

On the eve of negotiations between Harvard and 32BJ, a group of custodians at the school rallied against their own union leadership, calling on the University to halt negotiations until intra-union conflicts are resolved.

Bacow said Wednesday that the dispute is “up to them to work out and resolve.”

“Sometimes the hardest negotiations that occur in labor negotiations occur on the same side of the bargaining table, not across the bargaining table,” Bacow said.

“We also have legal obligations in terms of whom we can bargain with, and that’s the legally elected representatives of the employees,” he added.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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