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UAW Graduate Workers and Harvard Reach Historic Union Election Agreement

Union and university will avoid litigation and move swiftly to NLRB election

BOSTON – Today, Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW (HGSU-UAW) filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to conduct a union election amongst Harvard’s 3,500 teaching and research assistants. In an election agreement signed earlier in the day, HGSU-UAW and Harvard University agreed on a complete election process avoiding lengthy delays that often occur at the NLRB. The election will take place on Nov. 16 and 17, 2016.

“We have been working hard for the past year building our union in anticipation that the NLRB would restore our right to organize in the UAW vs. Columbia decision,” said Jack Nicoludis from the Chemistry department. “It’s great that Harvard is willing to agree on the election process. This is an exciting step toward sitting down to bargain our contract with the administration.”

Nearly a year ago, graduate workers reached out to the UAW to join a growing movement of tens of thousands of graduate workers seeking a democratic voice in their working conditions. Since then, thousands of student employees at Harvard have signed union cards in support of their union, the HGSU-UAW. After receiving independent verification of majority support for the union last spring, HGSU-UAW asked Harvard’s administration to allow these student employees to make a decision on unionization free from interference from their employer.

“While we are disappointed the Harvard administration wouldn’t agree to a non-interference approach, we are excited to have worked out an election agreement. We know that Columbia University and the New School University engaged in prolonged litigation and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer fees. We are thrilled that our union and the Harvard administration have forged a better way forward,” said Niha Singh from the Public Policy department.

The agreement dictates the logistics for an election, including which classifications will comprise the bargaining unit, polling locations, dates and times. The classifications covered by this agreement mirror the bargaining unit the NLRB decided are “employees” in the UAW vs. Columbia University case decided Aug. 23, 2016.

“Through today’s historic announcement Harvard is recognizing student employees’ rights to form a union and win a democratic voice in their working conditions,” said Julie Kushner, UAW Region 9A director. “Harvard is acknowledging the critical role student employees play in the success of the university. We’re excited to have Harvard’s student workers lend their voices to the tens of thousands of UAW student workers across the country fighting every day for graduate employee rights,” she said.

In an earlier decision by the NLRB (2000) in the UAW vs. New York University case, the NLRB determined that graduate employees were protected by the National Labor Relations Act. The movement for graduate worker representation in private universities began in earnest. Student employees at Brown University, Columbia University and Tufts University voted in their union elections. However, the Bush-appointed NLRB reversed the NYU decision and stripped graduate workers of their right to form unions. The Brown University decision was the law of the land until it was overturned with the recent UAW vs. Columbia University decision.

“The graduate employees at Harvard have reached an historic election agreement with the university,” said Dennis Williams, UAW president. “This agreement was made possible by decades of hard work and collaboration between graduate employees and the UAW, including winning the right to organize for graduate employees at private universities. As one of our nation’s most prestigious universities, Harvard has wisely chosen to refrain from unnecessary litigation regarding the basic rights of these employees to form a union. This agreement will inspire an already-growing national movement of graduate employees looking to join the UAW. Graduate employees, like all other workers, want a voice at work and the ability to negotiate with their employer.”

“The Columbia decision was huge. We are inspired by it and are so happy our moment is finally here,” said Tina Groeger, a Ph.D. student from the History department. “I look forward to voting Union Yes on the 16th and 17th and giving student employees a voice at Harvard.”