UPDATED: Aug. 22, 2021 at 8:00 p.m.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers plans to hold a strike authorization vote beginning Sept. 13 following five months of bargaining for its second contract with Harvard.
Two-thirds of voters must vote to authorize a strike and, if authorized, the union’s bargaining committee can call for a strike at any time.
“It’s not a strike for the sake of a strike — it’s a strike because we have learned that it’s only pressure that’s going to move Harvard,” HGSU-UAW President Brandon J. Mancilla said in an interview.
On July 12, Harvard’s graduate student union accepted the University’s offer to extend its current contract to Aug. 31. The two sides have reached tentative agreements for five articles, but several key issues remain unresolved, including compensation, discrimination and harassment procedures, and union security.
In June, more than 600 HGSU-UAW members committed to organizing a strike in a letter to the University. The union announced the strike authorization vote at a general membership meeting Aug. 10.
The scheduled vote would be the union’s second strike authorization vote. In December 2019, HGSU-UAW went on strike for nearly a month in a bid to secure its first contract, ultimately moving to mediation and ratifying a one-year contract in July 2020.
Harvard administrators have begun preparations for a potential strike. In an email to University faculty and school leadership Friday, Deputy Provost Peggy Newell and Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote that the University remains “firmly committed” to participating in negotiations in good faith and reaching an agreement with the union, but noted schools and departments should plan for a potential strike.
“With HGSU-UAW raising the potential for a strike in the fall semester, it is critical that Schools and Departments begin local contingency planning for managing the impacts of a strike,” they wrote.
If the strike authorization vote is successful, the union does not need to strike immediately. In 2019, HGSU-UAW went on strike nearly two months after its successful authorization vote. The union and the University will continue to negotiate regardless of the vote’s outcome; the union scheduled the vote for early in the fall, Mancilla said, to allow the union and the University enough time to negotiate a contract during the semester.
“A [strike authorization vote] is also for the University to know that plans are ongoing, that members are deciding, but it’s giving them a chance to engage in negotiations with us in order to avert a strike,” Mancilla said.
The union and University have already moved to proposing “packages” of contract articles, rather than proposals on individual articles, Mancilla also said.
Harvard’s latest proposals include a roughly 9 percent increase in compensation and benefits from the inaugural contract, which includes a $1.55 million increase in existing benefit pools, a new preventative dental insurance option, the extension of eligibility for the benefit pools to hourly workers, and percentage raises in wages, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote in an email to Harvard affiliates on Thursday.
Harvard has not changed its stance on one of the union’s key bargaining goals: allowing members to pursue complaints of identity-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and academic retaliation under union grievance procedures that allow for third-party arbitration. The University maintains that such complaints should fall under University policies.
Union bargaining committee member Ash E. Tomaszewski wrote in a statement that some of Harvard’s proposed changes — particularly percentage raises instead of bonuses and the inclusion of hourly workers in benefit pools — are “significant,” but that the package was ultimately unacceptable to the union.
“Their move on salaried percentage raises and hourly [workers’] fund access is significant but is still very far from meeting need or being remotely justifiable,” Tomaszewski wrote. “Our members know this and don’t buy the University’s weak attempt to get us to sell out survivors and give up on real recourse for a raise that doesn’t even account for inflation.”
Mancilla also said that the union does “not plan to agree to the details Garber outlined in his message.”
Mo Torres, a HGSU-UAW member and Sociology Ph.D. candidate, wrote in an email he believes the authorization vote will strengthen member participation and the union’s negotiating position.
“The more student workers involved in the process, the more democratic our union, and the more successful we’ll be overall,” he wrote.
He plans to vote for authorization to give the bargaining committee “as many tools as possible at their disposal to help us win a better contract that’s fair and just.”
CORRECTION: Aug. 22, 2021
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the threshold for a strike authorization vote to pass. Under the UAW Constitution, two-thirds of voters must vote yes, not two-thirds of union membership.