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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
Members of Harvard’s graduate student union voted at a meeting Tuesday to affiliate with undergraduate student workers currently collecting union cards for official recognition.
The resolution passed 58 to 4, with one member abstaining.
Should Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union successfully win official union recognition, it will join Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers under Local 5118 of the organization’s parent union, UAW, after negotiating its first contract with the University.
HUWU publicly launched its unionization campaign in late January and began collecting union cards on March 4.
“I strongly support affiliation because I think it is a strong show of solidarity with student employees that are often left out of the union conversation,” HGSU-UAW President Koby D. Ljunggren wrote in an email following the vote. “Undergraduates occupy so many of the day-to-day jobs on campus — including teaching and research — and I think it’s paramount that we shift the conversation.”
“I’m ecstatic with the result,” they added.
Once affiliated, HGSU-UAW and HUWU would share an executive committee — charged with managing union finances, membership, and strike authorization votes — while maintaining separate union statuses and separate contract negotiations with the University.
If officially recognized, HUWU members would be able to run for positions on the executive board, including treasurer, sergeant-at-arms, and trustees.
“The decisions on all of this come so far down the line that it’s not super clear, but it would basically be like a merging of the two of us in a governing way,” HUWU organizer Syd D. Sanders ’24 said. “But we would continue to have two separate collective bargaining agreements with Harvard.”
Until the conclusion of their first contract negotiations, HGSU-UAW will provide financial support to HUWU during the unionization campaign.
“The extent of the financial support we and the broader International UAW will provide depends on how the University administration reacts to the campaign,” Ljunggren wrote. “Obviously, we urge the University to be neutral and voluntarily recognize whatever unit petitions for recognition.”
“It would be a damn shame if the University chooses to follow the same route they took with the HGSU campaign — antagonistic and hostile,” Ljunggren added.
HUWU previously voted to affiliate with the UAW through HGSU-UAW before discussing the proposal with graduate student union members at a closed town hall March 8.
“We know them. We like them. It makes sense,” Sanders said. “They are other student workers on campus and they have a lot of resources and experiences as a more recently unionized campaign that we can utilize easily.”
During the meeting, HUWU members presented their pitch and answered questions from HGSU-UAW members in attendance.
“There are some people with concerns and doubts, but I think there’s many more people who are really excited about the potential to organize together and to share resources,” Sanders said.
Before the meeting, HGSU-UAW member Evan C. MacKay ’19 said that affiliation “seems to be the most stable way of supporting” HUWU.
“Already the impact HUWU has had is tremendous,” they added.
HGSU-UAW Trustee Max G. Ehrenfreund wrote in an email that affiliating with HUWU could convince more undergraduate workers to join the union, as HGSU-UAW has had “difficulty persuading eligible undergraduates to join.” Still, helping the undergraduate unionization campaign would “involve a substantial commitment of time and resources.”
“HGSU’s own organizers and staff are stretched thin, and our financial resources are limited,” Ehrenfreund wrote. “We might have to appeal to the International UAW for temporary staff or legal support.”
Ehrenfreund declined to comment on his personal position on affiliation.
Outgoing HGSU-UAW Bargaining Committee member Ash E. Tomaszewski said they were initially “a little bit hesitant” about the affiliation with HUWU.
“I think my impression of the unit, HUWU, was going to be larger than it is,” they said. “But when I looked at the actual size of the unit, they are 200 to 300 workers compared to our 5,000-ish worker unit. I’m not so much concerned about substantial shift in our union politics or priorities.”
Sanders estimated HUWU and HGSU-UAW will become officially affiliated in “a couple of” years.
“I look forward to the powerful potential we can reach together as one local union,” Ljunggren wrote.
—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.
—Staff writer Julia A. Maciejak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @maciejak_a
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