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Harvard Grad Union Requests Mid-Contract Negotiations Over Wages

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Halfway into a four-year contract, Harvard’s graduate student union has asked the University to formally reopen contract negotiations over demands for higher wages.

The request, filed by the union on July 19, comes amid an ongoing campaign by Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers to raise student researcher and teacher salaries up to living wage in Middlesex County — $48,779 per year, or $23.45 per hour, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.

On Thursday, more than 100 Harvard graduate students and supporters rallied for a wage increase and pay parity across divisions at the John Harvard statue.

Last May, the union began collecting signatures for a petition calling on Harvard administrators to increase salaries. The petition received more than 1,600 signatures by May 17, and organizers taped the printed petition to the door of Massachusetts Hall after delivering the petition inside the building.

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“As graduate and undergraduate student teachers and researchers at this school, we want to see Harvard put its money where its mouth is,” the petition read.

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At Thursday’s rally, organizers said administrators have since ignored the request.

“I hand-delivered that letter to the president’s office, and apparently they still have not seen fit to respond,” HGSU-UAW organizer TomHenry J. Reagan said.

In an interview following the rally, HGSU-UAW organizer Alexandra C. Stanton called the University’s response “disrespectful.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the University’s response to the petition.

The union submitted a formal request to reopen contract negotiations specifically over Article 20 in the contract, which covers wages. HGSU-UAW can request bargaining over a contract clause, but the HGSU-UAW contract does not include a Reopener Clause, which would establish circumstances to negotiate on issues within a union contract but not the contract as a whole.

“They’re actually under no obligation to respond,” HGSU-UAW organizer Rachel E. Petherbridge said of the University in an interview following the event.

While raises are standardized across all divisions, minimum salaries differ. A student worker in the life sciences makes about $4,000 more than someone working in the humanities or social sciences.

“We’re partitioned off into tiers, paid differently depending on how profitable the University views our labor,” Petherbridge said at the rally.

Cost of Living Adjustments — a little-known contract provision that ties raises to inflation — was among the wage-related demands made at Thursday’s rally.

COLA is also one of the UAW’s central demands for “the Big Three” automakers — Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler. The UAW has threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached by midnight Thursday.

“If we had COLA in our contract, we wouldn’t be barely keeping our heads above water,” Petherbridge said.

Thursday’s rally comes two days after the MIT Graduate Student Union reached a tentative agreement after threatening to strike. The agreement includes an average compensation increase of more than 10 percent in the first year, followed by three successive yearly raises.

HGSU-UAW’s last contract granted a 5 percent increase in the first year and three successive yearly raises. Stanton said the MIT union “had a credible strike threat, and that’s why they’re going to win.”

“That tentative agreement is really strong,” Stanton said of the MIT agreement, which also guarantees dental insurance and an agency shop, a form of union security that grants employees the choice to unionize and requires non-members to pay a fee toward the cost of collective bargaining.

But up the river at Harvard, organizers said the current wage package is simply not enough.

“We can’t afford to visit our families, to pay our utility bills, or just to live enriching lives while we work for Harvard. We’re here because if you only make $3,000 a month, it’s pretty rough to cover groceries and medical expenses, to support children and parents,” Reagan said.

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

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at azusa.lippit@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @azusalippit.

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