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As Harvard’s graduate student union prepares to vote on a tentative agreement reached with the University, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 called the proposed deal “very fair” and said he hopes to avoid a second disruptive strike.
The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers’ bargaining committee reached a tentative deal with the University late Monday, bringing the sides close to a four-year agreement following eight months of negotiations and a three-day strike held last month.
HGSU-UAW members, who officially began another strike Tuesday morning, were advised by the bargaining committee to continue working while the union held a 24-hour vote on whether to end the strike. The voting closed early Wednesday with an overwhelming majority of members voting to end the strike, which caused little disruption across campus.
“All of us wanted our student workers to be able to return to work and continue with their work and their studies as quickly as possible,” Garber said in a Tuesday interview. “None of us believe that a strike really benefits anyone. It’s best to resolve these issues through negotiation.”
Still, some union members remain wary of the tentative agreement, which failed to secure two of the union’s three key demands — independent arbitration for Title IX cases and an agency shop that would require all student workers to contribute to union activities or a student health fund regardless of whether they join.
“What were we striking for to begin with?” HGSU-UAW member Stephen M. “Mac” Loftin Jr. said. “It’s been mentioned that we’ve been fighting for the last eight months, but what were we actually fighting for?”
While the union also originally hoped to secure a three-year contract, the tentative agreement accounts for a four-year period, raising concerns among some members that HGSU-UAW will lose support across campus before the next round of contract negotiations.
“For the fourth year, we won’t have a lot of institutional memory of the undergrads, so we will have to see if they will be behind us like that again in four years,” HGSU-UAW member Anca I. Wilkening said.
HGSU-UAW trustee Andrew M. Bergman also questioned the bargaining committee’s timing in approving the tentative agreement.
“Why would we not wait one more week?” he said. “And why would we not expect our bargaining committee to come and make that case before they [tentatively agree to] something and take that basically out of our hands?”
The HGSU-UAW bargaining committee wrote to members Monday night that “in order to secure” bargaining victories, including a 5 percent pay increase for salaried workers in the first year, it “had to make difficult concessions with the hope that future [bargaining committees] will be able to carry forward these fights.”
“We are recommending this contract to you for ratification with the clear recognition that this contract does not include everything that was important to us,” the 10-person committee wrote to members.
Garber said Tuesday he hoped union members would ratify the agreement later this week.
“We think that it’s a very, very fair agreement,” he said.
He declined to say how the threat of a strike impacted negotiations in their latter stages.
“A lot of work has been going on for quite a while to reach agreement,” he said. “So it’s hard for me to say how much the threat of a strike mattered. But we all agree a strike would be an unfortunate approach to resolving our disagreements.”
—Staff writers Meimei Xu and Cara J. Chang contributed reporting.
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