With their current contract expiring Wednesday, Harvard offered its graduate student union a two-month contract extension on Monday. The union will vote on whether to accept the extension next week.
The University proposed the extension and a move to federal mediation during a Monday bargaining session, the penultimate one before the contract expired on June 30. At the final bargaining session on June 30, rank-and-file members left the Zoom in protest after the University reaffirmed its offer of one-time bonuses for salaried Ph.D. research assistants and teaching fellows instead of the percentage wage increases demanded by the union.
“A temporary extension means that all the terms and benefits of the current contract will remain in place and provides our two bargaining teams the opportunity to continue the discussions at the table and make progress toward an agreement,” Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote in an email to University affiliates on Wednesday.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ Bargaining Committee voted unanimously to reject mediation, which would bring in an official from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help with negotiations.
Despite being “very far apart on many, many issues,” HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said in an interview that he feels the two sides are making progress, especially in informal smaller working groups with union and University representatives.
“A mediation at this point I just think would slow things down,” he said.
On the other hand, the Bargaining Committee’s vote on the extension offer was an even 5-5, prompting it to open the vote up to the entire membership.
HGSU-UAW members will be able to vote on the extension after the union’s membership meeting on July 6, with voting open until July 9. The Bargaining Committee will not issue a recommendation to membership.
“I think there are pros and cons to both sides,” Bargaining Committee member Ash E. Tomaszewski said. “I personally feel better making this a democratic process.”
Mancilla agreed, noting the high levels of membership engagement at the open bargaining sessions and a recent open letter signed by more than 600 students committing to organize a strike if contract negotiations between Harvard and the union were not resolved by June 30.
“Six hundred student workers, or more at this point, have signed onto the strike commit letter,” he said. “There’s a lot of attention, and a lot of people are following and engaged in this process. People are coming to the open bargaining sessions, and so it just felt right to expand this decision on that.”
The extension would push the agreement’s expiration from June 30 to August 31 as the two parties continue negotiating. If HGSU-UAW votes to extend its contract, the union will maintain access to the negotiated arbitration procedure for non-discrimination and harassment cases. HGSU-UAW will also not be able to go on strike while the contract remains in effect, though the union is allowed to organize for one.
Regardless of whether the union votes to extend the current agreement, benefit funds expired on July 1 and the University will continue to “uphold the status quo of our working conditions, such as compensation, workload, workspace materials, and vacation,” the Bargaining Committee wrote in an email to HGSU-UAW membership. In addition, both parties are legally obligated to continue negotiating in good faith.
The University will “honor its continuing obligation to bargain in good faith with the intent to reach an agreement,” Garber wrote.
Mancilla said he envisions next Tuesday’s meeting to be a space where members can ask questions of the Bargaining Committee and draw their own conclusions on the extension.
“It’s more in the hands of membership,” he said. “It’s up to them to make up their own minds. It’s not up to us to make a pitch.”
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.