Harvard has agreed pay its graduate student union $60,000 as a settlement for dues it failed to deduct from union members’ paychecks from July to September 2020, according to a joint statement released by the University and the union earlier this month.
Under Article 31 of its contract ratified last June, Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers members are not required to pay membership dues, but members can authorize the University to deduct dues directly from their paychecks and remit them to the union. HGSU-UAW filed a Step 1 grievance against the University on Sept. 9, 2020 after union members noticed that dues were not deducted from their paychecks as requested.
“We want Harvard to pay us back,” the union wrote in an email to membership on Sept. 18, 2020.
Harvard rejected the Step 1 grievance a few days later. HGSU-UAW then filed a Step 2 grievance on Oct. 2, 2020, which the University again denied on Oct. 29. Both parties then prepared to proceed to the next step in the grievance process, third-party arbitration.
The grievance was scheduled for a third-party arbitration hearing on April 22, but the two sides reached a settlement April 13.
In the joint statement following the settlement, the union and University wrote that they “reached an agreement fully resolving” the grievance.
“Pursuant to this agreement, the University will issue HGSU a payment for voluntary dues that it was unable to deduct from student workers’ paychecks and remit to HGSU for the months of July, August and September 2020,” the statement reads. “The University also waives any right it had or has to recoup dues from student workers for this same time period. HGSU will withdraw its grievance and demand for arbitration regarding both dues and V-CAP payments.”
V-CAP is the United Automobile Workers union’s political action fund.
The statement explained that the University made “good faith efforts,” but was “unable to” deduct dues until mid-September 2020 for several reasons: complications from the Covid-19 pandemic; the new payroll system and job titles for student workers under the contract; and the lack of time between the contract’s ratification date, June 30, and its implementation date, July 1.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla declined to comment beyond the joint statement.
HGSU-UAW’s Executive Board sent a union-wide email April 19 announcing the settlement.
“This is a huge indication that our grievance process, which can culminate in neutral, third-party arbitration, helps us solve workplace issues,” the board wrote. The union is currently pursuing at least two other grievances with the University, one over the definition of its bargaining unit, and another over payroll issues faced by student workers living abroad.
Union members celebrated the settlement and HGSU-UAW’s enforcement of its contract.
“I’m obviously very happy that the settlement was reached,” said Jonathan J. Booth, a longtime rank-and-file member of HGSU-UAW. “I think that our position was clearly vindicated by the settlement.”
Erik Baker, another HGSU-UAW member, agreed.
“I was really glad to see our union take a proactive stand in saying, ‘It’s in the contract; we’re going to enforce it,’” he said.
Baker also said he believes the settlement demonstrates the importance of a contract and he is “excited to keep fighting” for a second contract to secure worker protections.
“It was a sign of the power that we built up,” he said. “This is exactly why I voted to ratify the contract in the first place — so that we would have this structure to actually enforce our rights.”
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.
—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meimeixu7.