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Harvard Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Launch Official Campaign for Unionization

Organizers announced plans to form a union to represent Harvard's 6,000 non-tenure-track faculty on Monday.
Organizers announced plans to form a union to represent Harvard's 6,000 non-tenure-track faculty on Monday. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Cam E. Kettles and Julia A. Maciejak, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard non-tenure-track faculty members announced their plans to form a union, launching a public card campaign for official recognition Monday.

In a press release, Harvard Academic Workers-United Automobile Workers stated that it seeks to bargain a contract for the University’s non-tenure-track faculty, which includes lecturers, preceptors, postdoctoral fellows, instructors, researchers, teaching assistants, and adjunct faculty. Non-tenure-track faculty may only hold teaching appointments up to eight years.

“What I want to see is for me and the roughly 6,000 other non-tenure-track faculty — teachers and researchers across Harvard — for us to have a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that get made that impact those working conditions,” said Thomas A. Dichter ’08, lecturer in History and Literature.

HAW-UAW is demanding a contract that improves job security, parental leave, and health insurance; addresses inequalities in child care support; increases protections for international workers; and strengthens measures against discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

“We are banding together because people are being taken advantage of, because one person’s voice cannot get very far with the Harvard Corporation,” said Mary J. Brown, adjunct assistant professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Together we are stronger and hopefully we can make the situation better for all of us.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment.

Organizers said contracts for non-tenure-track faculty — called letters of appointment — do not adequately protect employees or provide them with job security.

“Harvard administrators can make changes to our appointments without having to explain themselves, without having to give us notice,” Social Studies lecturer Ana I. Keilson said.

Michaela J. Thompson, an instructor at the Harvard Extension School, said the contracts are “entirely Harvard-facing.”

“We have no voice in Harvard governance,” she added. “We’re not included on committees or in meetings in which our fate is decided.”

Last Thursday, The Crimson reported that Harvard Kennedy School Dean Doug W. Elemendorf is forcing out non-tenure-track faculty member Joan Donovan, according to three Kennedy School staff members. According to Kennedy School spokesperson James F. Smith, the school is winding down her project “because it does not have intellectual and academic leadership by a full HKS faculty member, as required of all long-term research and outreach projects at HKS.”

Organizers said compensation is among the most important issues for the new unionization campaign.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge is $2,700, according to Cambridge Open Data. HAW-UAW organizers said many non-tenure-track employees make as little as $50,000 per year.

“We live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and we are not compensated in a way that is commensurate with how expensive it is to live here,” Dichter said.

“I have two kids in daycare, and their daycare bill every month is more than my entire paycheck for my half-time position teaching History and Literature,” he added.

HAW-UAW is affiliated with the long-standing UAW, which is also the parent union of Harvard’s graduate student union.

Organizers have been planning the unionization campaign since 2018, according to Keilson and Thompson. Many HAW-UAW organizers have previously been part of unionization efforts at other institutions.

“Look, higher unionization in higher education is increasingly the norm,” said Keilson, who was previously part of Columbia University’s graduate student union.

Though the campaign publicly launched Monday, organizers said they feel confident in its success because of the support the drive has already amassed.

“We currently have hundreds of supporters and organizers across the University in all schools and on all the campuses,” Keilson said. “We wouldn’t be going public if we didn’t feel confident that we had a majority of support moving forward into our card campaign.”

In the coming weeks, workers will sign authorization cards to prompt either voluntary recognition of the union by Harvard or a formal election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, which requires a majority vote in favor of the union for certification.

Keilson said she does not expect Harvard to voluntarily recognize the union, citing previous pushback against Harvard’s graduate student union before the NLRB certified their election in 2018. Still, she said she’s “confident” that the University will eventually “come to the bargaining table.”

The campaign has support from several other faculty members and local advocates.

“There are lots of tenure-track and tenured faculty at this university who are strongly supportive of the push by non-tenure-track faculty to seek union recognition,” History professor Kirsten A. Weld said.

City Councilor Kenzie Bok ’11 offered her support in a tweet Monday.

“So proud to support @HAWorkers in their quest for a union!” she wrote. “I used to do this work and I know these academic NTT workers are being constantly squeezed even as they make up an increasing % of instructors at our universities.”

According to the American Association of University Professors, 73 percent of all faculty employed by higher education institutions are non-tenure-track.

Over the past few decades, Weld said, non-tenure-track faculty have been taking on a greater number of teaching hours all across the country.

“More and more of the labor hours performed by instructors in U.S. universities are performed by people who are in increasingly precarious employment conditions,” Weld said. “That has a corrosive effect on the kind of work that they’re able to do as educators. It means they don’t have access to academic freedom.”

The HAW-UAW’s first rally will take place on Feb. 14 at the University’s Cambridge and Longwood campuses.

“We’re ready,” Dichter said. “Yeah, it’s time.”

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Julia A. Maciejak can be reached at julia.maciejak@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @maciejak_a.

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