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Students Vote to Form Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union in Landslide Election

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Updated: Wednesday, October 25 at 5:21 p.m.

Harvard’s non-academic student workers voted overwhelmingly to unionize with all but one ballot in favor after the initial vote tally.

The win comes after nine months of organizing by the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union-United Automobile Workers, joining a small handful of undergraduate unions across the county.

Out of 154 accepted votes, 153 votes were in favor of the union.

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Votes were counted immediately after the two-day voting period concluded Wednesday at 4 pm. While the preliminary count is decisively in favor of unionizing, the result is not final until certified by the NLRB. Both parties can file objections to the tally in the next seven days.

“The University looks forward to the collective bargaining process with Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union-United Auto Workers, so that we can negotiate in good faith for a contract that will benefit our student workers and the University,” Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement to The Crimson.

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The total bargaining unit includes at least 400 students working in Harvard’s libraries, cafes, The Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, and the University’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion offices. Of the total unit, only 320 workers were included on the official voting list due to a minimum working requirement of 20 hours in the five weeks preceding Oct. 7.

The official voter rolls also included multiple students’ dead names, despite having preferred names listed on the University’s official directory, Harvard Connections. HUWU organizer Syd D. Sanders ’24, who was listed by his dead name, said the errors have made organizing harder.

“They should know what people’s names are,” Sanders said. “But they gave everyone’s dead names, which then when we’re doing text banking means that we’ve accidentally dead named people, which is obviously a bad experience.”

Newton did not comment on how the lists were created.

The new union joins its sister, the Harvard Graduate Students United-UAW under Local 5118 of the organization’s parent union, UAW. Having both voted to affiliate in March, the two unions will share an executive committee in control of union finances but will bargain for separate contracts with the University.

But voting in this week’s election does not make workers official union members. While the union informally considers workers that signed authorization cards members, official membership will be established after the union successfully negotiates its first contract with the University.

When the graduate students unionized in 2018, they began officially bargaining with the University six months later.

Before beginning contract negotiations with the University, the union will elect a bargaining committee and establish their bargaining priorities using a unit-wide survey.

HUWU organizer Olivia G. Pasquerella ’26 said the union’s current goals include higher compensation, job stability, and transparency around hiring and firing.

During this week’s election, voters said pay and stability were top of mind.

“We deserve to be compensated fairly for all the work we do on campus,” said EDI Office worker Amber C. Nolazco-Torres, who voted in favor of the union effort Tuesday.

Sam W. Trottier, who also voted for the union effort on Tuesday, said his vote was “more of a why not.”

“I don’t know if it will do anything or not, but I wouldn’t mind making more money,” he said.

The union will also immediately begin the process of adding additional workplaces to its bargaining unit. It hopes to submit a petition for an Armour-Globe election, in which workers not in the bargaining unit vote to join.

That could include undergraduates working in Harvard’s schools and centers. Undergraduate course assistants and teaching fellows are already represented by HGSU-UAW.

“We already are having conversations about what workplaces to organize next,” Sanders said.

While organizers had initially launched HUWU-UAW alongside a similar fledgling campaign to unionize non-tenure-track faculty, that effort has not had similar success. Harvard Academic Workers organizers said their campaign remains strong despite remaining in the card-drive phase nine months later.

Should the NLRB certify HUWU-UAW, Sanders said he still predicts bargaining will be a “long and drawn out process.”

"I don’t think the demands will be easily given by the school,” he said. “They’re famously union busting and evading."

Newton declined to comment.

“There is at least an understanding that we need more than what we have to protect us at our jobs,” said Pasquerella, a Crimson Magazine editor. “Even if it isn’t something that people are passionate enough to get into an organizing meeting about, people have a consciousness that unions are broadly a good thing.”

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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