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More Than 90 Percent of Harvard Grad Student Union Voters Approve Strike Authorization

The Harvard Graduate Student Union began a strike authorization vote last Tuesday.
The Harvard Graduate Student Union began a strike authorization vote last Tuesday. By MyeongSeo Kim
By James S. Bikales and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: October 25, 2019, at 11:39 p.m.

Harvard’s graduate student union passed its strike authorization vote Friday by an overwhelming majority — with more than 90 percent of voters in support — granting its bargaining committee the power to call a strike when it deems necessary.

Cheers erupted around 10:20 p.m. Friday in Emerson 210, where union members spent more than five hours counting the ballots.

Of the 2,682 members of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers who cast ballots in the election, 90.4 percent voted in favor of the strike, according to an email sent to union members late Friday evening.

“We hope that this should be a sign to the administration that student workers are really serious and we're committed to fighting together and doing what it takes to win a strong contract,” bargaining committee member Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15 said in an interview outside the vote counting room.

Under the rules set out by the United Automobile Workers Constitution, the union needed a two-thirds majority of voting members to authorize a strike.

HGSU, which represents graduate research assistants and student teaching fellows across Harvard, recently entered its second year of negotiations with the Harvard for its first contract. Organizers started bringing ballots cast across the University to Harvard Yard around 5 p.m. Friday, where the union members counted them in a closed room.

While the union’s voting members offered strong support for strike authorization, the union’s bargaining committee reiterated that they see calling a strike as a “last resort.”

“Striking is an absolute last resort and our intention here is to achieve a fair contract,” said bargaining committee member Ege Yumusak ’16. “This 90.4 percent shows that we are willing and able to do so if the administration doesn't come to the table with a fair deal.”

Yumusak declined to comment on when a strike may take place, but said that the union will be holding “town halls” with its members to inform their planning, such as setting a strike deadline.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement Friday evening that administrators believe a strike is “unwarranted.”

“The University continues to approach these negotiations in good faith and has offered substantive proposals that address the concerns raised by HGSU-UAW throughout these negotiations,” Swain wrote.

The union and the University, which have thus far reached a consensus on 11 proposals ranging from workplace resources to intellectual property rights, have not been able to reach tentative agreements on economic issues such as student compensation and health benefits. Two days after voting on the strike authorization began Oct. 17, the two sides agreed on two contract provisions, one regarding international student rights, as well as one on workspaces and materials.

The strike authorization vote brought “energy” to negotiators during the session, according to an email from HGSU bargaining committee member Jennifer K. Austiff to members. She characterized the tentatitive agreements as “significant wins.”

University and HGSU negotiators, however, remain at odds over key harassment and discrimination greivane procedures. The union has proposed that members be allowed to pursue third-party arbitration, which Harvard has repeatedly opposed. Sexual misconduct is currently adjudicated through the Office for Dispute Resolution, which investigates formal Title IX complaints.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said in an interview Thursday that Harvard respects the union’s right to strike, but reiterated that the University believes it has approached the bargaining process fairly.

“There's a large number of substantive issues on the table and I think that the discussions have been useful,” he said.

Garber said Thursday it would be “premature” to specify the measures the University plans to take in the event of a strike, but noted that Harvard is looking at other universities’ historic responses to strikes.

Associate Provost Doreen Koretz and University Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email to faculty on Oct. 15 that it is “critical” that faculty begin to plan for how they would continue running courses in the event of a strike.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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