Members of Harvard’s graduate student union voted 61.5 percent in favor of a two-month contract extension last week, accepting the University’s offer to extend the contract to Aug. 31 as the two sides remain deep in negotiations.
The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers Bargaining Committee put the contract extension to a union-wide vote after a committee vote split 5-5. A total of 714 members, or 35 percent of eligible voters, voted on the extension between July 6 and July 9, according to HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla.
Besides depleted benefit funds that have to be renewed by a new agreement, all provisions of the current contract will now be maintained through Aug. 31, including access to arbitration through the grievance procedure and the no-strike clause.
Mancilla said the extension vote did not represent “a radical situation or change.”
“Extending the contract for two months and having something in writing in order to sort of secure some assurances from the administration, through the grievance procedure, through access to orientations lists, et cetera, I think that that was what most people were more comfortable with,” Mancilla said.
The vote opened after the union’s monthly general membership meeting last Tuesday, during which rank-and-file members asked Bargaining Committee members questions about the extension and discussed it among themselves, according to Mancilla. The union discussed the vote further at separate organizing committee meetings.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement Sunday that the University is “pleased” that the union accepted the extension and “looks forward to future bargaining sessions.”
“As we’ve said previously, we remain committed to reaching an agreement that addresses the University’s and HGSU-UAW’s priorities,” he wrote. “The University will continue to negotiate in good faith, both at the main-table and within several small working groups, and looks forward to future bargaining sessions.”
HGSU-UAW steward Zeke Benshirim ’19 said he supported the decision to put the extension to a union-wide vote, though he ultimately voted against it.
“It shows a commitment to democracy,” Benshirim said. “It makes me happy that I’m part of a democratic union that makes official decisions representing its members’ voices.”
After attending the general membership meeting, Benshirim said he also talked with other students in his department before voting against the extension to “send the message that I want a better contract now.”
“I’m not unhappy with the results overall because I know this allows us to continue using the formal grievance process for our members over the summer and to keep organizing with minimal disruption as we fight for a better contract,” Benshirim said.
Currently, the union and the University have tentative agreements for five of their contract articles: employment appointment security, workspace and materials, job posting, family friendly benefits, and the employee assistance program. None of the most contentious issues, however, have been resolved, including wages, health benefits, union security, and procedures for handling harassment and discrimination complaints.
“We just hope Harvard comes back to the table ready to bargain a better contract,” Mancilla said. “We’re moving a lot on a lot of the less contentious issues, I would say. These small groups have been very productive, especially on getting language that we both agreed on done, but on the major issues we’re still pretty far apart.”
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