Here’s What Happened During The Grad Union Strike Today

On Dec. 3, Harvard’s graduate student union went on strike. The Crimson is updating this article with a summary of what went down every day of the strike.
By Crimson News Staff

Harvard's graduate student union went on Strike Tuesday at midnight. The highly anticipated strike comes after over a year of negotiations, during which the two parties failed to come to agreements on key provisions related to healthcare, compensation, and sexual harassment and discrimination grievance procedures.
Harvard's graduate student union went on Strike Tuesday at midnight. The highly anticipated strike comes after over a year of negotiations, during which the two parties failed to come to agreements on key provisions related to healthcare, compensation, and sexual harassment and discrimination grievance procedures. By Thomas Maisonneuve

Harvard’s graduate student union officially began their strike on Tuesday at midnight after more than a year of contract negotiations with the University. Thus far they have agreed on 12 provisions but have failed to concur on key contract provisions. During a bargaining session the day before the strike’s start, both sides offered new proposals, but no new agreements were reached.

HGSU announced their Dec. 3 strike deadline last month after voting union members overwhelmingly approved strike authorization in vote in late October. Since bargaining began in October 2018, HGSU and the University have held 28 sessions. Among the issues still on the table are compensation, health benefits, and grievance procedures for sexual harassment and discrimination.

There are currently no additional bargaining sessions scheduled.

Union members – teaching fellows, course assistants, and graduate research assistants – can choose whether to participate in the strike. Striking HGSU members will halt paid instructional work, including holding sections and office hours and grading assignments and exams, according to strike guidelines distributed by the union in late November. Graduate research assistants on strike will withhold 20 hours of their paid research work not related to their academic program.

The strike is expected to continue indefinitely, with pickets in Cambridge running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Pickets on Harvard’s Longwood campus in Boston will run from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day.

For the duration of the strike, The Crimson will update this article with a brief summary of what went down each and every day.



Dec. 20, 2019

Harvard’s graduate student union updated its members in an email Friday about the union’s plans to engage federal mediators in negotiations — a step University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 first proposed in an email to Harvard affiliates the day before.

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers accepted Harvard’s proposal to engage the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in contract negotiations, according to the email the bargaining committee signed and sent out to union members Friday afternoon.

The union also provided a brief timeline for forthcoming strike and negotiation activity in its email.

“We have agreed with the administration to begin mediation on January 7 and are still discussing the details of the process to ensure that it keeps negotiations moving,” the bargaining committee wrote. “We will continue to update you as the details are finalized.”

HGSU-UAW also argued in their email that Garber’s statement demonstrated “the power of our strike.” In particular, the union highlighted Garber’s statement that the University hopes to resolve the strike “in the month ahead” as the possibility of the strike continuing into the spring semester looms.

The email to union members encouraged striking members to put pressure on the University remotely if they are off campus during the fourth week of the strike, which coincides with the holidays.

The email advised strikers “to participate in our virtual picket line.” Forms of participation include calling, emailing, or writing a postcard to an administrator.

“Dear Dean.......Happy Holidays. This year I celebrate our first strike as student workers. In my time here I have suffered/seen my friends suffer,” the postcard template for remote strikers begins.

Fulfilling just one of these remote picketing acts satisfies striking members’ “strike duty,” according to the email. Striking union members must normally perform an average of four hours of strike duties per week to receive benefits from the United Automobile Workers’s strike fund.

— Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @emaschumer.



Dec. 19, 2019

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 announced in an email Thursday afternoon — the final day of the semester — that Harvard would propose engaging the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in an attempt to resolve the three previously intractable issues at the heart of the strike: compensation, health care, and grievance procedures to adjudicate sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. FMCS would only step in at the request of both parties; Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers has yet to comment on whether it will support the move.

Earlier Thursday, HGSU-UAW announced that its strike will continue through winter break in an email to union members. The email came a day after the union’s bargaining committee and Harvard administrators met to negotiate for the first time since the strike began on Dec. 3. The two parties reached six tentative agreements during Wednesday’s meeting and have already signed three related to housing, titles and classifications, and an emergency grant. The remaining expected agreements are related to discipline and discharge, grievance and arbitration, and strikes.

FMCS mediates disputes between unions and management free of charge, according to its website. Garber wrote that he believes mediation will help resolve the three outstanding issues and end the strike — now the longest of its kind.

“It is common to have a mediator help the parties move forward after exhaustive efforts at the table have fallen short,” he wrote.

HGSU-UAW bargaining committee member Lee Kennedy-Shaffer wrote in an email to union members Thursday morning that the union and University expect to sign the three remaining proposals — related to discipline, strikes, grievance, and arbitration — over email.

The article on discipline and discharge prohibits the University from disciplining or dismissing student workers without “just cause.” The provision also guarantees student workers access to union representation or a “fair process” if Harvard disciplines them.

“These articles, taken together, advance our rights and establish clear protections,” Kennedy-Shaffer wrote.

The provision related to grievance and arbitration creates a procedure through which union members can appeal violations of contractual rights to a neutral, third-party arbitrator for resolution. This is separate from an article that would address the grievability of harassment and discrimination — one of the key provisions at the center of the strike.

In the agreed upon strike provision, the union promises not to sanction a strike once a full contract is in effect in exchange for the University administration not “locking” union members out of their workplace.

Though the University did propose several new proposals regarding compensation anf healthcare, two of the three key disputed provisions, Kennedy-Shaffer wrote in his email that these new proposals are insufficient to settle a contract.

In his email, Kennedy-Shaffer wrote that the University’s administration demonstrated more willingness to “seriously bargain” than in previous negotiations. He added the Harvard administrators said — for the first and only time since bargaining began — that both parties had a “mutual interest” in reaching an agreement.

“We are hopeful that the administration will confirm further dates for an accelerated pace of bargaining prior to the start of the next semester,” Kennedy-Shaffer wrote.

“It is clear the administration is feeling the pressure of our strike,” he added.

With the close of finals period Thursday, the union announced that it intends to continue its strike into winter break. In lieu of picketing in Harvard Yard and at Harvard’s Longwood campus, union members on strike will create a “virtual picket line” by calling the administration each day.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.



Dec. 18, 2019

At noon on Wednesday, representatives from the University and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers met to negotiate for the first time since the strike began on Dec. 3. When the three-hour-long bargaining session concluded, the two parties had reached five tentative agreements in the contract and one “side letter,” which is separate from the final contract. None of Wednesday’s agreements included the three key provisions at the center of the strike: compensation, health care, and grievance procedures for sexual harrassment and discrimination.

The University and the union reached tentative agreements related to discipline and discharge, strikes, grievance and arbitration, titles and classifications, an emergency grant, and housing, University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an email.

Under one of these provisions, student workers living in University housing who decide to pay rent on a monthly basis — rather than up front — will not pay an additional fee.

The union also agreed to the University’s proposal to put $25,000 annually toward an "emergency grant," which would be distributed to student workers at the union’s discretion, subject to University approval. The union’s proposal asked that the University contribute $100,000.

When ratified, the contract will group student workers based on their work to determine their wages, though the union and University remain deadlocked over the amounts Harvard will ultimately pay.

The proposals related to the other three provisions that the University and the union tentatively agreed upon — discipline, strikes, grievance, and arbitration — have not yet been released.

The University also presented new proposals at Wednesday’s negotiation session related to compensation and health care.

Harvard offered to put $325,000 annually in a pool fund to help finance union members’ child care, an increase from its original offer of $275,000. The increase falls short of the union’s proposal, which demands the University put $950,000 annually toward costs related to supporting union members’ children — not restricted to merely the cost of child care.

The University also increased proposed compensation for student workers. The new proposals would give research assistants an 8.2 percent salary raise over a three year period and a 7.2 percent raise for teaching fellows over the same period. Harvard also offered to raise the minimum hourly rate for research work to $16 per hour.

It remains unclear whether the union put forth any new proposals. Representatives for HGSU-UAW could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

— Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @emaschumer.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.



Dec. 17, 2019

Snowfall greeted the 15th day of the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers strike. Throughout the day, the striking members of the graduate student union continued picketing outside of Johnston Gate, an entrance to Harvard Yard. A group of picketers also distributed flyers explaining their strike outside of the Smith Campus Center.

With the strike in its third week, HGSU-UAW announced that it would designate Dec. 16 through Dec. 20 as a week specifically dedicated to calling Harvard administrators’ offices, expressing solidarity with the graduate student union, and pressing them with questions about negotiations.

The union is circulating a Google Form with instructions, on Twitter. It includes a call script and the phone numbers of different administrative offices such as the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost.

The google form encourages supporters to call three phone numbers from a list every day. The list includes phone numbers for the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Executive Vice President, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Dean of Graduate Students of Arts and Sciences, the Office of General Counsel, Labor and Employee Relations, and the Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

The form instructs participants to ask why the University is not meeting daily with the strikers and why it has not agreed to the union's contract proposals on health care, compensation, and protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Harvard and HGSU will meet at the bargaining table Wednesday — the first negotiation session since the strike began.

“By calling administrative offices every day this week, we can send a clear message to the administration that we stand with student workers and their demands for decent pay, health care, and protections from harassment and discrimination. These student workers are fighting to make Harvard a better and more just institution - let’s help them do this,” the form reads.

Union organizers took to Twitter to encourage Harvard alumni to participate in the action. Graduate student unions across the country also disseminated the call script among their members.

—Staff Writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.



Dec. 16, 2019

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers strike hit its ten-day milestone Monday. Union members and students gathered for a midday rally at the John Harvard statue with religious leaders from across Harvard’s campus. Guest speakers included Jewish Labor Committee executive director Ari L. Ferdig, Divinity School Professor and Humanist Chaplain Gregory M. Epstein, Divinity School Professor and Interim Pusey Minister Stephanie A. Paulsell, and Rabbi Toba E. Spitzer ’85. Three Battery Wharf Hotel strikers, who went on a 79-day-long strike in September, also joined the crowd at Harvard.

During the rally, representatives from Harvard’s faith groups and Boston residents invoked religious themes in their speeches to support the striking student workers.

Paulsell called Advent — a Christian season leading up to Christmas — a holiday process where the prophets call on people to “turn around and change.”

In his speech, Ferdig quoted the Torah in order to speak about workers' rights. “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether of your own people or a stranger," he said.

The strikers who attended the rally walked to University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s office around noon, chanting and singing. Three representatives from the crowd, including Spitzer, delivered a letter penned by the New English Jewish Labor Committee to Bacow.

“What we believe is that the Jewish community has a particular obligation to support the rights of working people, support their rights for economic justice,” Ferdig said in a speech to the crowd.

Ferdig said in an interview with The Crimson that he was pleased the rally had “a fantastic turnout.”

“It’s so great to hear people singing and being in community with one another,” Ferdig said. “You know, I talked there about opening our hearts to the words of the Torah, and I hope that that’s what President Bacow does, is he opens his heart to the words that he’s hearing from the community.”

— Staff writer Benjamin L. Fu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenFu_2.



Dec. 13, 2019

true By Camille G. Caldera

Members of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers continued picketing around Harvard Yard and Harvard’s Longwood campus Friday, attempting to halt deliveries and gain support ahead of next week’s bargaining session with University administrators. In lieu of a midday rally, organizers put on a production, entitled “Bargaining Session: A Play in Three Acts.”

For the play, over 50 picketers walked from University Hall to 124 Mount Auburn Street, the University-owned building where bargaining sessions are typically held. Once inside, they began the production. Ege Yumusak ’16, Justin Bloesch, Lee Kennedy-Shaffer and Cory W. McCartan — all Ph.D. students and members of the HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee — played themselves, while Matthew R. Volpe, another Ph.D. student, played the role of “Harvard’s Outside Counsel.”

In the first act, Volpe and the Bargaining Committee argued over the number of times they have met to bargain. In the second act, Volpe sat under the bargaining table and hid from the committee for the entire session. In the third act, committee members read all of their proposals to Volpe. In response, he simply said “no.”

McCartan spoke about the first issue that the University and the union have yet to agree upon: compensation. “The question we’ve had for you — and we’ve had since the beginning — is are you willing to let us live off food stamps or will you bargain a fair contract and move on fair and equitable pay?” he said.

Kennedy-Shaffer explained the union’s proposal for healthcare. Yumusak then discussed third-party grievance procedures for complaints of sexual harrasment and discrimination.

After the play, picketers returned to their posts blocking deliveries around campus and marching through the Yard. Beforehand, Bloesch addressed the crowd, thanking them for their two weeks on strike.

“The University’s feeling the pressure,” he said. “This has been a disruptive strike for them, they do not want to keep doing this, and we’re going to meet them at the bargaining meeting so keep it up, because we don’t win the contract in the bargaining room, we win it out there.”

Meanwhile, other graduate students and supporters continued their pickets at Harvard’s Longwood campus. Following a noontime rally, more than 30 members of the union marched through buildings at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, culminating in a picket through Gordon Hall, which houses most of the administrative offices at the Medical School.

—Staff Writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.



Dec. 12, 2019

Thursday marked the eighth day of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers strike. Union members and supporters continued carolling and picketing around campus. Throughout the day, strikers greeted students heading into final exams with flyers resembling multiple choice forms. The flyers urged students to “Tell Bacow to Bargain Now!” They also included a phone number for students to call and urge University President Lawrence S. Bacow to “bargain a fair contract.”

Thursday’s Cambridge carolling destinations included the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Provost. Songs included versions of “12 Days of Christmas,” “I Have a Little Dreidel,” “All I Want for Christmas is You,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The union adapted the traditional lyrics of “Silent Night” to “Strike our contract is born. Strike our union is strong,”

They also changed “Oh Holy Night,” singing “Oh holy strike, the finals are ungraded. Long lay the workers in exploitation.”

Following a short midday rally at Harvard’s Longwood Campus, picketers marched and chanted through the Kresge Building at the School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School’s New Research Building.

— Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.



Dec. 11, 2019

An early morning snowfall welcomed picketers as they continued delivery disruptions around campus on the seventh day of the strike. Cambridge’s midday rally featured several faculty members from across the University who spoke in support of the union. At several points throughout the day, strikers greeted students heading into exams with flyers designed to look like scantrons, urging students to “Tell Bacow to Bargain Now!”

The Wednesday morning Cambridge rally featured speeches from faculty members, including professors standing in solidarity with the union from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Law School.

FAS Professor Sarah S. Richardson said she supports a fair contract for HGSU. She told the strikers that they have shown themselves to be “true educators” and that their “actions will create a better world” for themselves and generations to follow.

Kennedy School Lecturer Richard Parker said the union will be called on in the future for institutional shifts: “You are a part of the generation in which the challenge is not just with Harvard, but a larger shift in the institutional power of this country and this world. You are going to be called upon once you are successful in this to do it again and again and again.”

Kennedy School Professor Marshall L. Ganz gave HGSU the flag flown over the funeral of labor rights activist Cesar Chavez. He said, “I want to entrust it to you to keep it until you win.”

At Harvard’s Longwood Campus, picketers stopped to listen to a noontime rally featuring speeches from HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee Member Hector Medina, HGSU-UAW union member Emily Unger, American Federation of Teachers' Union Organizer Liliana Gutmann-McKenzie, and Boston Teachers Union Internal Organizer Natalia Cuadra-Saez.

Emily Unger introduced a new song deviating from this week’s union carolling, “We’re gonna rise up, rise up till its won. When the people rise up, the power comes down. They try to stop us so we keep coming back.”

Liliana Gutmann-McKenzie said she recognizes the difficulty of striking. “I know a lot of faces here, and I just had to say how proud I am to come back and see all of you here on strike.”

Natalia Cuadra-Saez said degrees are made possible by graduate student workers and that she recognizes their work in grading and overseeing courses. “We know who is mentoring us and guiding us all the way and so we owe you,” she said.

Harvard is scheduled to meet with the union next week to discuss their proposals and new counter proposals from both sides, University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates Wednesday afternoon.

“The University has not wavered from its commitment to address concerns raised during these negotiations, and we will continue to meet with HGSU-UAW in the hopes of reaching a reasonable resolution,” Garber wrote.

— Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.



Dec. 10, 2019

Tuesday — the first day of final exams — marked the one week anniversary of the HGSU-UAW strike. As undergraduates filed into lecture halls for their exams, student workers continued to picket and disrupt deliveries. At one point, strikers rallied in the Office of Labor and Employee Relations after congregating with the Steel Workers Union in Harvard Square. In the afternoon, striking workers sang labor-themed carols as they marched around Harvard Yard in a circle.

Around noon, picketers in Cambridge moved the picket line into Harvard Square. Roughly 50 marched out Johnson Gate up Mass. Ave. and eventually congregated in the Charles Hotel courtyard where they were joined by Steel Workers Union members. Soon after, they held a rally in the lobby of the Office of Labor and Employee Relations at 124 Mt. Auburn St, attracting onlookers from office windows above.

“We have spent so many hours in this building with them, going back and forth, and finally it has come to this,” HGSU bargaining committee member Justin Bloesch said in a speech at the rally.

“I believe that working people need strong unions. I know Harvard is an incredibly rich employer,” Dave Slaney, a member of the Steel Workers Union, said in an interview. “I felt bad for the graduate students. I'm glad to see them striking to try to get a good contract.”

The mid-day rally at Longwood featured speeches from Ashley Gripper, a School of Public Health student and former bargaining committee member; Mary T. Bassett, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and former New York City Health Commissioner; and Priscilla MacKenzie “Kenzie” Bok ’11, Boston City Councilor-Elect for District 8.

“Today's International Human Rights Day, so I thought that it was a good opportunity to remind ourselves of Article 23 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which pertains to the rights that people have,” Bassett said in an interview. “It has lots of modern language though, the idea of equal pay for equal work, the idea that all people should have the right to a healthful working environment. And it, of course includes the right of workers to form unions to protect their interests.”

Despite the rain, student workers continued to picket around Harvard, some singing strike-themed Christmas carols with lyrics like “The weather outside is frightful, but the picket is so delightful” to the tune of “Let It Snow.” Picketers said they have appreciated the support they’ve received from students, faculty, and those outside the University.

“The weather and the administration have both been a bummer. It’s really disappointing to see what's going on with the Harvard administration,” Religion Ph.D. candidate Eric Stephen said in an interview. “But the amount of support that we've been getting from students, from faculty, from people outside of the Harvard community, from our Congresspeople, from our city councilors has just been such a show of support that it really does feel like we're making a difference. It's a really great thing.”

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.



Dec. 9, 2019

Local and national politicians joined union members on strike Monday. Students picketed for their fifth consecutive weekday on Monday in Harvard Yard and at Harvard’s Longwood campus, despite rain throughout the day. The union also held a concert in Memorial Church featuring a number of speakers and musical performances.

The Monday morning rally — attended by roughly 150 picketers — featured speeches from Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Cambridge City Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui and Alanna M. Mallon, and Cambridge Mayor Mark C. McGovern. After addressing the students, they spent time on the picket line.

“You are building a future for this country and for the globe,” Clark told the students. “And we need to make sure that you are paid fairly, that your work is respected, and that you are safe at work.”

“What we are demanding — because power concedes nothing without a demand — is nothing charitable, is nothing benevolent. It’s simply what you have earned,” Pressley said. “I cannot believe that at an institution as revered, as agust as this one, that we would even have to make the case. So I’m going to tell you the truth: I’m outraged. I’m outraged because this is outrageous.”

HGSU Bargaining Committee Member Cherrie Bucknor — who is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology — also provided an update on bargaining. Bucknor said that Harvard has not been actively negotiating with them in the past week. “Our last bargaining session ended at 11:30am last Monday, a week ago. So far, crickets. We have heard nothing from the administration,” she said. “Shame. I am ashamed of this administration. I am ashamed of this university.”

Half an hour after the rally, picketers moved to Memorial Church for a solidarity concert featuring speakers and performers, including Music Professor Esperanza Spalding, who sang a song about love. “It’s a force that might not end up named on your contract, and might not named on a sign. But I know it’s the force driving as you do this labor,” Spalding said.

At the concert, a member of Boston’s Local 26 — a union representing over 12,000 hospitality workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — announced that the Executive Board of Local 26 voted to donate $5,000 to HGSU-UAW’s Hardship Fund, which financially supports union members during the strike.

Anai A. Morales ’23 and Xochitl Morales ’22 — sisters who are from Delano, Calif., where Cesar Chavez launched the labor rights movement — sang two songs in Spanish. “We’re here in solidarity with the union, coming from a union town, Delano, knowing that the fight for workers rights and fight for a fair life is one that everyone should be fighting for,” Xochitl said.

“I hope that this moment is a moment to refuel,” another performer, Mercedes F. Ferreira-Dias ’23, said.

Other student performers included Ganavya Doraiswamy and Rajna Swaminathan — both of whom are acclaimed artists and Ph.D. candidates in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry — and the band Extra Extra.

Picketers continued to disrupt deliveries across the University on Monday. Groups of three to five students were stationed at high-traffic locations like Johnston Gate, a loading dock at the Science Center, and Divinity Avenue throughout the day to ask drivers to turn around out of respect for the strike.

Leah P. Rumsey, a Ph.D. candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion, said that it was “wonderful” to see the number of individuals who turned their vehicles around when asked. “We’ve had a lot of people who were really supportive, both private people and people who were here for part of their work,” she said. “The goal of delivery picketing is to disrupt labor and disrupt the work of the institution that’s not bargaining with you, but it’s also to gain support for your cause.”

A driver for the United Parcel Service, Jose L. Barrientos, said that when he saw the picketers, turning his truck around was “instinctive.”

“I’m a Teamsters Local 25 out of Charlestown, and we’re a brotherhood of solidarity. We stay together against corporate America,” he said. Barrientos said that though UPS will question why he did not deliver his packages, the company understands that its workers are not allowed to cross picket lines.

Picketers said they appreciated the show of support from politicians like Clark and Pressley. Some said they are “confident” about the future of the strike as it heads into its second week, while others are unsure.

“I think it's just really incredible to have the support of essentially the entire Massachusetts political establishment,” Andrew S. Ross, a Ph.D student in Computer Science, said. “I feel confident. I feel exhilarated. I feel like we have momentum.”

Danube N. Johnson — a Ph.D candidate in Religion — said that “it really helps us see that we're not alone in this fight, and we're not isolated.” Danube said that she didn’t think “any” members of HGSU-UAW expected a solution in the first week. But as for the future, she said it’s “unclear.” “It's pretty opaque from what's happening. It's pretty opaque, what's going on inside the administration,” she said. “We're just doing what we can to sort of hold our side of the line.

—Staff Writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.



Dec. 6, 2019

Striking members of the Harvard Graduate Student Union picketed for their fourth consecutive day on Friday in Harvard Yard and at Harvard’s Longwood campus. HGSU programming in the Yard included a strike registration — which will enable strikers to become eligible to receive strike benefits — as well as a rally for labor and climate, which brought together activists across the University in solidarity. A snowfall that began in the afternoon bid picketers farewell for the weekend. After taking a brief respite on Saturday and Sunday, they plan to resume picketing on Monday.

HGSU held a strike registration in the basement of Memorial Church. The Harvard union, which is affiliated with the United Auto Workers union, encouraged striking members to register in order to become eligible to receive strike benefits, courtesy of the UAW’s strike fund. HGSU strikers will have access to the fund if their strike goes on for at least eight days and the University withholds strikers’ pay.

Friday’s midday rally focused on the intersection of climate and labor. Representatives from HGSU, Harvard Divest, the Ethnic Studies Coalition, and Harvard Prison Divestment made appearances, and speakers stood behind a large sign that read “Nobody Wins When Harvard Invests in Climate Injustice, Prisons, Stolen Land, PR Debt.”

Speaking on behalf of Divest Harvard, Maya H. Levine ’21 commenced the hour-long rally by relating the strike for graduate student worker’s rights to divestment from fossil fuels. “We are striking for climate justice and fair pay. We are striking for transparent power structures that don’t exploit people or the planet,” she said.

Anna Camila Gonzalez Valdes, an Earth and Planetary Sciences Ph.D. candidate, connected movements supporting unions to movements against climate change through the experiences of her mother. Gonzalas said that her mother, who worked at Walmart for six years, was fired for showing up late to work. Without a union to protect her, she had no recourse. One year subsequent, she lost her home to foreclosure after it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. “I do not need a Ph.D. to know that the labor movement and the climate movement are related,” she told the crowd.

Enthusiasm levels among graduate students proved disparate in Harvard Yard compared to Longwood. Combined, the two picket lines at Longwood consisted of fewer than 20 people. In Harvard Yard, despite snowfall in the afternoon, roughly 50 picketers persisted.

“The energy has been pretty good. It’s also really contagious when you get out here with your friends,” Jeffrey D. Williams, a Music Ph.D. student who was picketing in the Yard Friday afternoon, said. “It's much easier to do it when you're in a group with people that you know, and that you care about, and you care about their rights.”

In small numbers, HGSU members and union supporters continued picketing outside of Houses and next to loading docks, continuing to disrupt mail delivery by preventing trucks from successfully dropping off their packages.

In the Yard, picketers engaged passersby. HGSU members and supporters directed chants towards tourists and distributed fliers that summarized HGSU’s reason for the strike and outlined union members’ grievances with the University.

Bevan T. Wilson, an Australian tourist who was walking around the Yard with his family, found the flier a union member handed him compelling. “They've got reason to demonstrate,” he said. “The administration [is] not listening to them and they don't feel they're being heard. So why not make some noise and demonstrate and let people know about it.”

“We are the Harvard Graduate Student Union and we are on strike for a fair contract,” picketers circling the Yard repeatedly shouted as they approached the John Harvard Statue, which was teeming with tourists.

After four days of continual picketing, strikers will take a break over the weekend. They plan to resume on Monday given that the University and the union do not reach an agreement before then.

— Staff writer Ema Schumer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.



Dec. 5, 2019

Pickets continued in Harvard Yard and in the Longwood Medical Area Thursday as the Graduate Student Union entered the third day of its strike. Picketers continued to block deliveries at sites around campus, delaying packages sent to the freshman mail center and upperclassman houses. Both groups of strikers held mid-morning rallies featuring student leadership, and Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan made and appearance. Later in the day, demonstrators in Harvard Yard merged with an ethnic studies protest as they marched.

Several HGSU members continued to picket at gates and loading docks beginning in the early hours of the morning, according to union Instagram posts. Director of Mail and Distribution Services Betsy Shortell wrote in an email to house building managers that UPS would not cross the picket line to deliver mail to students. Harvard University Mail Services planned to scan Thursday’s packages and deliver them to House mail centers Friday, but will not continue to process packages if UPS continues to withhold delivery, according to Shortell’s email.

Longwood strikers established two separate picket lines, one outside administrative building Gordon Hall and the other outside of the Harvard School of Public Health. The two pickets merged for a noontime rally featuring Harvard affiliates and Boston-area labor leaders.

Caroline Keroak, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Biological Sciences and Public Health program, talked about her experience forgoing dental care because she could not afford insurance.

“It should not require teaching, extra jobs, and selling your soul to be able to survive your undergraduate experience. The cycle of abuse can and will end with us,” Keroak said.

Harvard Dining Services employee Rona Ines Rivera urged strikers to “keep up the fight,” saying that she would provide “coffee as much as I can to you guys.”

Representatives of Our Harvard Can Do Better, the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, and the People’s Parity Project all spoke at an 11:30 a.m. rally in Cambridge with the theme #TIME’SUP in honor of the grievance procedure proposal. Cambridge city councilor Quinton Zondervan and Massachusetts Nurses’ Association President Donna Kelly-Williams also spoke.

“You're fighting not just for your rights, but for generations of students and workers to come,” said Zondervan, who reiterated the Cambridge City Council’s support for the strike.

At 3:15 p.m., demonstrators in Harvard Yard stopped in front of the University Hall for an additional rally. Speakers included Laura Correa Ochoa, Ph.D. Candidate in Latin American and Caribbean History in the History Department; HGSU bargaining committee member Justin Bloesch; and Gilliam Mason, Co-Director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

“I want to say I'm proud of all of you who are standing up from the intimidation tactics that Harvard trying to do. They are trying to scare you. Don't give in, and keep up... keep up the strength with your other department members,” Bloesch told strikers.

After the rally concluded, the picket line proceeded to the steps of Widener Library, where protesters were demonstrating in support of ethnic studies at Harvard. The groups merged for a 30-minute rally to close a day of demonstrations.

Throughout the day, union leaders debuted new chants and songs.

One song, set to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” included the lyrics “this little picket line, we’re gonna let it shine.”

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.



Dec. 4, 2019

Pickets began in three locations on Harvard’s Longwood campus Wednesday on the second day of the strike, with striking workers employing chants specific to the Medical School campus, including “Put pipettes down! We need a contract now!” and “Whose mice? Our mice!” Some HGSU members in Cambridge held picket lines at gates and loading docks throughout the morning, asking drivers not to complete their deliveries. Both the Cambridge and Longwood pickets featured mid-day rallies with local labor leaders and politicians. Meanwhile, University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement that the University is evaluating the union’s most recent compensation and benefits proposal, but no new bargaining sessions have been scheduled.

Beginning at 5 a.m., striking workers picketed at loading docks and gates on the Cambridge campus, according to union Instagram posts. Throughout the morning, they asked delivery drivers to respect the union’s picket lines, and at least two drivers turned around after speaking to the picketers.

Eighteen construction workers in Longwood walked off the job in solidarity with HGSU, union organizer Gabriel L. Schwartz said during HGSU’s rally in Longwood.

While the picket lines in Cambridge have been porous, HGSU held a “firm” line around Longwood’s Gordon Hall — an administrative building — and asked those entering not to cross the picket line, according to striker Emily S. Unger ’13, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

“We understand that students still need to attend class, but we're asking administrators to give us a fair contract and these are the people with the power,” Unger said, referring to those who work inside Gordon Hall.

The Longwood picket wrapped up with a noon rally. Roughly 80 people gathered on the steps of Gordon Hall to hear from local activists, elected officials, bargaining committee members, and non-Harvard union organizers, including President of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Donna Kelly-Williams, Massachusetts State Representative Nika C. Elugardo, and Somerville City Councilor Ben S. Ewen-Campen.

The union also held a mid-day rally in Harvard Yard for the second day in a row. On Wednesday, leaders from local unions spoke in support of the strikers. Jessica J. Tang ’04 and Erik A. Berg ’89, president and co-president of Boston Teachers Union, respectively, led off the rally. They were followed by Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy, Secretary Treasurer-Elect of Greater Boston Labor Council Darlene Lombos, and President of Massachusetts AFL-CIO Steven A. Tolman. Cambridge City Councilor-Elect Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler also led the crowd in chants of “Cambridge is a union town.”

Tang and Berg highlighted in an interview after the rally that they were introduced to the labor movement as undergraduates at Harvard.

“It's important to show solidarity to all these workers that are fighting for just basic rights and dignity on the workplace,” Lombos said in an interview. “That's what the labor movement does — support people who are standing up and fighting — and we come out to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

No new bargaining sessions have been scheduled as University negotiators continue to evaluate the union’s latest proposals on compensation and benefits, which were presented at Monday’s bargaining session, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

Associate Provost Doreen Koretz and University Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email to faculty Wednesday that the University will not negotiate over the union’s demand to lift a 40-visit limit on mental health visits in the Student Health Insurance Plan because it is “a term of the health plan.”

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



Dec. 3, 2019

Union members braved heavy snow and freezing temperatures to kick off the first day of the strike. Hundreds of strikers marched throughout the Yard, chanting “What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey hey Bacow, looks like you’ll be grading now.” Tuesday also marked the last day of classes, and hundreds of students saw their classes relocated or cancelled. At the opening rally, strikers heard from leaders of other unions and local politicians. Online, Democratic Presidential candidates took to Twitter to throw their support behind the union.

As the first union members filtered out of Phillip Brooks House, which is serving as strike headquarters, the University posted a position statement online with arguments against the union’s proposed procedure for adjudicating discrimination and sexual harassment.

Students and faculty walked out of their classes at 10:30 a.m. to join the picket lines. Other faculty supporting the strike relocated their classes off-campus or to upperclassman houses to avoid crossing the picket line.

Massachusetts State Representative Marjorie C. Decker spoke at a rally Tuesday morning. She was also joined by United Automobile Workers regional director Beverley Brakeman. UAW is HGSU’s parent union.

United States Senator and Harvard Law School professor emerita Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro, Mayor Pete P. M. Buttigieg ’04, and former Vice President Joe Biden all backed the strikers on Twitter.

Late in the day, picketers joined up with student protesters who were demonstrating at a faculty meeting to support Ethnic Studies and to criticize administrators for denying associate professor Lorgia García Peña tenure earlier this semester.

FeaturesHighlightFront Middle FeatureHGSUFeatured ArticlesHGSU Strike