Harvard graduate student workers strike for fair contract after 13 months of negotiation

Photo courtesy of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU – UAW)

By Sammie Purcell
BU News Service 

CAMBRIDGE — Harvard graduate student workers are preparing to strike Tuesday after failed negotiations with the university over fair pay, comprehensive healthcare and protections from harassment and discrimination, the union said. 

“Despite rallies, petitions and a sit-in, Harvard administrators have dismissed student workers’ calls for a strong and comprehensive contract,” a press release from Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW (HGSU-UAW) said Monday. 

The announcement comes nearly six weeks after 2,425 of the union’s estimated 4,500 members voted to authorize a strike. Of those who voted, about 90% voted yes. 

“We have exhausted all other options, and we are frustrated by Harvard’s consistent refusal to provide the basic rights and protections we are seeking,” said Jenni Austiff, a Ph.D. student in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, in a press release Monday. “We are ready to strike to show that we are serious about the urgent necessity for fair pay, healthcare and protections from harassment and discrimination.” 

According to Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a third-year law student and research assistant, the union has been negotiating their contract with the university since they voted to form in April of 2018. 

“Since then, we’ve been trying to win a contract that secures fair pay, comprehensive and affordable healthcare and protections against discrimination and harassment,” said Sandalow-Ash, who is also a member of the union’s bargaining committee. 

A university spokesman said on Monday that Harvard and the HGSU-UAW have met for 28 bargaining sessions over the last 13 months, and the two sides have reached tentative agreements on 12 issues.

Both parties met for a bargaining session on Monday morning but were unable to reach an agreement on compensation and benefits that was mutually agreeable.

The spokesman provided Harvard’s official statement regarding the strike in an email to BU News Service on Monday. The statement said the university continues to feel the strike is “unwarranted” and will remain engaged in negotiations. 

“A strike will neither clarify our respective positions nor will it resolve areas of disagreement,” the statement said. 

The strike will begin a week before Harvard’s finals, during which graduate student workers will not perform their work duties. According to the union’s statement, this includes holding office hours, administering exams and grading work. 

Harvard’s statement said the university began planning a contingency plan for a strike weeks ago and will work to ensure as little disruption as possible to exams in the remaining weeks of the semester. 

According to the union’s press release, the first day of the strike will run from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Harvard Yard on Tuesday.

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