‘A Far More Substantial Offer’: Harvard Proposes New Third-Party Arbitration Appeals Process to Grad Student Union


For the first time, Harvard would allow student workers to pursue complaints of discrimination and “abusive or intimidating behavior” through an appeals process that could end in third-party arbitration under its latest contract proposal to its graduate student union Tuesday.

The University also proposed a $14 million increase in compensation and benefits over the three-year duration of the contract.

Tuesday also marked the expiration date of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’s contract with the University, which was extended last month. After Harvard’s negotiators presented the new package of proposals to HGSU-UAW on Tuesday, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 released Harvard’s full package of proposals in a University-wide email.

“Our graduate students have an important role in Harvard’s academic and research mission, and the updated comprehensive package proposal the University put forward today provides strong compensation and benefits that will continue to support their important work,” Garber wrote. “It also includes new proposals in line with our ongoing work to provide an environment free from harassment and discrimination.”


Under the University’s new non-discrimination proposal, student workers must first follow Harvard’s internal procedure for discrimination cases. If a student worker believes the University investigators in their case were biased against them, they can appeal the decision through Harvard’s internal processes or file a grievance with the union for potential third-party arbitration.

Student workers would not be able to appeal, however, in cases related to academic retaliation or Title IX and gender-based discrimination. HGSU-UAW’s proposal for non-discrimination procedures calls for the option of a union procedure that ends in third-party arbitration for all identity-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and academic retaliation cases.

According to Garber, allowing third-party arbitration for Title IX and gender-based discrimination could “violate federal regulations.”

Union and University representatives are also meeting in working groups to recommend new policies and practices addressing sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying, as part of the current HGSU-UAW contract. Recommendations from the working groups are expected in the coming months, according to Garber.

HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said the University’s proposal is “not everything we wanted,” but a step closer to the union’s position.

“It is a very small part of a grievance procedure that we would like to see for harassment and discrimination cases, but the fact that for the first time Harvard has recognized that arbitration is a legitimate option for student workers in some cases — that’s a big deal,” he said.

Harvard’s newest compensation proposal includes a 2.5 percent increase in salaries and teaching rates in the first year of the contract upon ratification, with 3 percent increases in the second and third years. Previously, the University had proposed an initial 2 percent raise, followed by two 2.5 percent raises. The proposal also raises the minimum wage for hourly student workers to $20 over the duration of the contract.

In addition to the 8.5 percent total increase to compensation, the University proposed a $1.8 million increase to the union’s existing benefit pools, with $600,000 increases annually, meaning the pools would total $2.75 million in the third year of the contract. Hourly student workers would also be able to access the benefit pools for the first time.

On health care, Harvard offered to cover 75 percent of premiums for salaried Ph.D. students in a new preventive dental plan or pay the dollar equivalent in premiums for its existing plan. Previously, the University said it would cover 50 percent of the new dental premiums.

According to its website, HGSU-UAW’s latest proposals for compensation and benefits are still larger than the University’s proposals. The union is asking for a raise of more than 15 percent over the course of the contract and a total increase of $3 million to the benefit pools.

The University’s latest package comes after HGSU-UAW began organizing a strike authorization vote, which will start Sept. 13. Harvard has also proposed federal mediation, Garber wrote in his email Tuesday. The two parties reached their first contract agreement after they met with a federal mediator following the union’s first strike in 2019.

The union is still discussing the University’s offer of mediation, but Mancilla said the Bargaining Committee prefers continuing direct talks. He added that the Bargaining Committee will not accept Harvard’s latest package, even though it marks “a far more substantial offer.”

“We don’t plan on accepting this deal,” Mancilla said. “The next step is to review to see what we like about it, see what’s workable, and send them a counter that engages with and also asserts our position on some things, just how we’ve been doing.”

The two parties will meet again next week.

—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meimeixu7.