Harvard’s undergraduate unionization campaign is up for election in late October — but organizers are racing against the clock.
To vote for the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union, student workers must have worked at least 20 hours from this week until Oct. 7. That presents a problem for new workers and students switching jobs, since the hiring process itself often takes several weeks.
To be officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, HUWU will need to win majority support among those who vote in October.
“We got a snapshot of what the bargaining unit looks like at the end of the spring, although the beginning of the fall is a very different time of year,” said Koby D. Ljunggren, United Automobile Workers staff organizer and former president of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW, with which HUWU is affiliated.
After launching their campaign publicly in February, HUWU organizers initially expressed a desire to hold their election in the spring to avoid a summer shift to the bargaining unit.
In a March interview with The Crimson, Syd D. Sanders ’24 — a HUWU organizer — said a fall election would require organizers to “repeat a lot of the organizing work that we’ve been doing the last two semesters” in order to reach incoming freshmen. Sanders added that a May election was ideal for the campaign.
But later that month, Harvard and HUWU signed an agreement setting a union election for Oct. 24 and 25. If hiring processes for student workers drag into mid-October, they will be ineligible to vote.
“This is something that we argued with Harvard back in May because this is a real problem and we want to make sure as many folks as possible are eligible to vote,” Ljunggren said.
HUWU organizer Olivia G. Pasquerella ’26, who currently works as a Schlesinger Library attendant, said the election comes at an “opportune time” for the campaign, but acknowledged the hiring process presents a challenge.
“It is complex because sometimes the hiring process here at Harvard is very slow. I know personally, it was like three weeks after my interview for my first semester job here that I finally got hired,” said Pasquerella, a Crimson Magazine editor.
Ljunggren said HUWU proposed that student workers who worked fewer hours over a shorter period of time should also be eligible to vote.
“We wanted to make sure that folks had both the opportunity to get hired and then also the opportunity to actually do work so they could be eligible to vote,” Ljunggren said.
“I don’t think that was as seriously contended with as it should have been on Harvard’s end,” they added.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.
The University is required to provide the complete list of eligible voters to the NLRB regional director on Oct. 13. The Office of Employee and Labor Relations provided a tentative list to HUWU organizers in May, although that list will be updated to reflect changes to the unit.
In the next two months, activists plan to focus on organizing their co-workers and advertising the union at orientation events and open houses.
“What we’re trying to do is be in every workplace that’s in our unit or in the unit we’re starting off with, so libraries, cafes, with a heavy emphasis on libraries,” HUWU organizer Kojo Acheampong ’26 said.
The unit includes both undergraduates and graduate students who work as “non-academic service employees” at Harvard libraries, cafes, Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, the Office of BGLTQ+ Life, the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, and the Women’s Center.
According to Pasquerella, the recent uptick in national labor activity means incoming Harvard freshmen have had greater exposure to unions. Just this past summer, the Teamsters ratified its historic United Parcel Service contract, Starbucks continued its public legal battle with union leaders, and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists went on strike.
“The perception I’m already getting from first-years is that they understand unions in a way I think sometimes previous generations of Harvard students didn’t when they were coming in because they’re seeing more unionization all around us,” Pasquerella said.
“I think we have a generation that understands more so the importance of labor organizing, but it’s just a matter of visibility. We have a relatively small set of organizers on campus, but our reach has been really good,” they added.