“University administrators worldwide look to Harvard as a model for their own universities. If Harvard welcomes graduate research and teaching assistants who desire to organize for improved workplace policies, a new standard of care may emerge.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren

Ever since the landmark NLRB ruling this August, the HGSU-UAW and other grad student unions at private universities nationwide have been prominent in the news. The facts are clear: grad students are workers too, and unions lead to better working conditions, better academic relationships, and a healthier university for all.

Jump to: The Union DifferenceThe Anti-Union CampaignThe NLRB RulingCommunity Support


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The Union Difference

Unions Knocking on the Academy’s Doors. The New York Times, 9/12

“Life for many graduate students is about to change for the better.”

Fact and Fiction About Graduate Student Unionizing. OnLabor, 9/7

“When the NLRB in Columbia University held that university student workers are “employees” with the right to unionize, it restored at private universities a right student workers had between 2000 and 2004, a right that their counterparts have had in medical education for almost 20 years, and, most compelling, a right that many public university student workers have had for almost 50 years. Given this long history of unionization — about 64,000 grad students at public universities in ten states are unionized — I am astonished that university lawyers and PR people are still arguing with a straight face that unionization will undermine education.”

For Research Assistants, NLRB Decision Marks a Big Win. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/5
(Click here to access with Harvard ID.)

“The recent Columbia ruling deemed the conclusion of the 1974 board — that research assistants are “primarily students” — irrelevant. Instead, the board applied the same “common-law test of employment” that it did to teaching assistants on the question of research assistants: Does the employer control the work, and is the work performed in exchange for compensation? Yes on both, it concluded.”

Graduate Students, the Laborers of Academia. The New Yorker, 8/31

“We have had fifty years to find out if unions destroy graduate education. They don’t. The first graduate-student union was organized at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 1969, and since that time nobody has found solid evidence that unions negatively affect the relationship between graduate students and their mentors. A 2013 paper found that students in these unions report that when their teaching loads and wages are set by contracts, they actually feel better-supported than their non-union counterparts. But that evidence has never counted for administrators at Yale, Columbia, and Harvard, who figure that, somehow, inexorably, quintessentially, their schools are different, purer, better.”

Academic Work is Labor, Not Romance. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/26

“The NLRB decision refuses to romanticize academe. This romanticization of academic labor is one of the most effective ways to obscure its actual costs.”

Unions in the Ivory Tower. The New York Times Editorial Board, 8/24

“The earlier ruling simply accepted the university assertions that unionization was incompatible with academic life because it would intrude on matters like academic freedom, the relationship between graduate students and professors, grading procedures and exam formats. None of that has turned out to be true in the experience of public universities with graduate student unions. Some 35,000 teaching and research assistants across the country are currently in unions. The board pointed to research conducted at public universities, many of which have long been unionized under state laws. The studies found that unionization either had no impact on academic matters or had actually fostered improvements in university life.”


The Anti-Union Campaign

Why is Columbia Acting Like Walmart? Columbia Spectator, 10/18

“Here are some answers, then, to the question of what University administrators do. They try to recruit faculty members into their anti-union drive (why else are they visiting so many departments?) And they… spin. Smoothly. Technically, no lies were told to my department. The substance of the issue had been, I think, misrepresented. But nothing was said, I would guess, that would be actionable in a court of law. The administration has likely been receiving high-quality advice from its very expensive counsel.”

When Harvard Hated Unions: A Labor History Many Would Just as Soon Forget. WBUR, 10/4

“Flash forward eight decades,and just this year Harvard’s President Drew Faust and the senior administration voiced strong opposition to the movement by graduate students to have the right to bargain collectively be represented by a union – a right now recognized by the National Labor Relations Board. The long record of institutional hostility towards organized labor is absent from most of the self-congratulatory volumes of Harvard histories penned by its scholars and alumni, who prefer to ignore its less decorous past. And who can blame them?”

For Your Anti-Union Information: Crop of university ‘anti-union’ university websites sparks criticism from proponents of graduate assistant unions. InsideHigherEd, 8/30

“The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that graduate student workers at private institutions may now form unions. But they need to vote to unionize first. In the meantime, a handful of institutions, including those with active graduate assistant union campaigns, have either launched or updated websites that they term information, but that are attracting criticism as being ‘anti-union.'”

Columbia University Hoping Slick Website Will Convince Graduate Students Not to Unionize. Jezebel, 8/25

“[T]he provost’s anti-unionization website does not contain very much specific information about why those concerns, or the potential drawbacks for student workers of being represented by UAW…”

Pro-Union Ruling by NLRB Turns Fears of Boston-Area Colleges Into Reality. Boston Business Journal, 8/24

“While the university has a positive relationship with unions for other employees, Harvard views a union of graduate workers as belonging to a separate category…”

Private Universities Must Recognize Graduate-Student Unions. Harvard Magazine, 8/23

“Collective bargaining, the University’s brief argued, would change students’ academic relationship with their institutions into a labor relationship. Harvard has been vocal in its opposition to a union, and has created, for example, a website intended to educate students about their pay and benefits. The NLRB’s decision…argues that there’s no contradiction in treating graduate students both as students and employees.”

Universities Boost Stipends Ahead of Ruling on Grad Unions. US News, 8/7

“Several private universities are boosting stipends and benefits ahead of a federal ruling that could clear the way for graduate students to form unions. To some grad students, it’s an attempt to persuade them that they don’t need collective bargaining to get a raise. Union backers say pay hikes are nice but what they want most is more control over their work as teaching and research assistants.”

Letter to Harvard University President Drew Faust
From MA Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Members of Congress Katherine Clark and Michael Capuano, 5/23

“If Harvard welcomes graduate research and teaching assistants who desire to organize for improved workplace policies, a new standard of care may emerge.”

Graduate Student Council Vice President Condemns Amicus Brief. The Crimson, 3/3

“[T]he resolution…states, ‘The Graduate Student Council condemns Harvard’s actions in joining this amicus brief and opposing the right of graduate student workers to unionize or not unionize by a democratic process.'”

Conflicting Views Emerge on Impetus of GSAS Benefits. The Crimson, 3/2

“Members of the unionization movement see a direct link between their efforts and the new changes coming out of GSAS.”

Harvard Files Amicus Brief Against Graduate Student Unionization. The Crimson, 3/1

“‘[P]rivate universities really feel that they are at a turning point, so a lot of them really want to do as much as they can to stop these victories now, and this they see as a very crucial decision.'”

Letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger
From NY Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, 9/2

“Collective bargaining…will allow for an orderly process for employees to ensure positive working conditions and to resolve disputes consistent with traditions of academic freedom and the highest quality teaching, learning and research.”

Amicus Brief from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

“For the reasons above, the Board should overrule the test of employee status applied in Brown University and return to its well-reasoned NYU decision, which found collective bargaining by graduate assistants compatible with academic freedom.”

Amicus Brief from the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

“Collective bargaining for [graduate students] does not interfere with academic freedom or interfere with an institution’s educational mission… may strengthen academic freedom and student- professor relationships… [and]is an effective mechanism to address the working conditions in the [graduate student]-university relations.”

The NLRB Ruling

A New Era for Graduate Student Organizing. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/26
(Click here for access with Harvard login.)

“The changing realities of the modern research university and the broad scope of Tuesday’s ruling feed what has been a growing appetite among graduate students to fight for better working conditions at both private and public colleges, where dozens of graduate unions exist under state laws.”

Ruling Pushes Door to Graduate Student Unions ‘Wide Open’. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/24

“In the Brown ruling, the board asserted that graduate employees should not be allowed to form unions because their doing so would intrude into the educational process. In Tuesday’s decision, the majority held that such a belief “is unsupported by legal authority, by empirical evidence, or by the board’s actual experience.” It not only rejected the Brown precedent, but also overturned a 1974 ruling that had declared research assistants at Stanford University ineligible to unionize based on a belief that such research is part of the educational process.”

It’s Game On for Grad Students After NLRB Rules They Can Unionize. In These Times, 9/9

“Graduate teaching and research assistants at a handful of private universities have been working towards unionization for years. Their administrations have largely been able to ignore their actions, citing the NLRB’s designation of them as students. Now, however, their efforts can finally move forward. They have the legal right to hold union elections and then negotiate contracts, providing them a collective voice in the terms of their employment. Already, the NLRB’s ruling is invigorating existing campaigns and inspiring new ones.”

Labor Board Ruling on Graduate Student Employment Rankles Universities, Lawmakers. The Washington Post, 8/24

“The three Democratic members of the board agreed that a 2004 Brown University ruling favoring the school “deprived an entire category of workers of the protections” of the National Labor Relations Act “without a convincing justification.””

Grad Students Win Right to Unionize in an Ivy-League Case. The New York Times, 8/24

“The majority at the labor board…expressed confidence that universities and their students could draw a proper line between largely academic issues and issues of pay and working conditions.”

NLRB: Graduate Students at Private Universities May Unionize. InsideHigherEd, 8/24

“Graduate student unions at public institutions are common, as students’ collective bargaining status on public campuses is governed by state law. But the NLRB oversees graduate student unions on private campuses.”

Graduate Workers Win Union Rights in Landmark Labor Ruling. UAW, 8/23

“Still, the university has failed to fully appreciate and address the concerns of graduate workers and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a notorious anti-worker law firm to oppose workers’ right to organize. Columbia administrators and those of other universities fought the reversal of Brown and have aligned themselves with known anti-worker front groups, including the Right to Work Foundation, which submitted an amicus brief to the Board in support of the university’s position.”

Feds Bolster Union Ranks by Making Grad Students Workers. InsideSources, 8/23

“There is nothing stopping a union from welcoming in a graduate student. Without being considered an employee, however, the students are not allowed the right to collectively bargain.”

Graduate Students Working at Private Universities Can Unionize. WGBH, 8/23

“The Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW, which began efforts to unionize back in April 2015, is celebrating today’s decision”

In Long-Awaited Decision, Labor Board Says Graduate Students Can Unionize at Private Universities. Stat, 8/23

“The decision opens the door for the students and research assistants at private universities to band together to negotiate issues like pay, benefits, workload, and class size.”

In Victory for Union Efforts, NLRB Rules Columbia U. Grad Students are Employees. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8/23

“The decision, by a vote of 3 to 1, has big implications for graduate students at private colleges, whose unionization efforts have been impeded by the 2004 Brown decision, which asserted that they were not employees. Graduate assistants at public colleges are subject to their states’ labor laws.”

The Unionizing of Graduate Students. The Atlantic, 8/23

“The board, in its decision, said graduate students can be both students and employees, and are therefore allocated the rights of workers.”


Community Support

Starving Harvard Hires Scabs to Replace Striking Cafeteria Workers. The Daily Beast, 10/10

“In anticipation of a strike, Harvard allegedly stockpiled three days’ worth of frozen foods. But now on the strike’s sixth day, students say they’re living on undercooked chicken prepared by untrained strikebreakers while administrators scour the faculty for any employees willing to serve breakfast.”

Harvard Calls on Employees to Volunteer During Strike. The Crimson, 10/9

“Local 26, often using Harvard’s $35.7 billion endowment as a rallying cry, has called for the University to provide year-round work for interested employees and institute a “minimum guaranteed salary” of $35,000 for those workers.”

HUDS Strike Will Continue into the Weekend, More Dining Halls Close. The Crimson, 10/7

“As workers picketed across Harvard’s campuses on the third day of their strike, representatives from their Boston-based union UNITE HERE Local 26 continued contract talks with the University’s negotiation team.”

Harvard University dining hall workers strike over wages and health-care costs. The Washington Post, 10/5

“To make ends meet during the summer months, Pappas said she works in the mailroom at Harvard for $8 less than she makes during the year. Pappas, who has had Type 1 diabetes since 16, said covering the costs of her medication and doctor visits is already a challenge. Paying more out of pocket, she said, is something she simply cannot afford.”

Harvard Dining Services Picket in Historic Strike. The Crimson, 10/5

“‘At this, the richest university in the world, no worker that is here and that is ready to work should be making less than $35,000 a year.'”

Faculty Union Declares Victory as Lockout at LIU Ends. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/14

“The end of the lockout would bring a welcome end to 12 days of uncertainty and misgivings following the university’s use of what one faculty member called “the nuclear option.”

Support HUDS Workers. The Crimson Editorial Board, 9/13

“It is unreasonable for Harvard to undervalue its employees in this manner, especially since HUDS workers play a critical role in building community among students on campus. In particular, the demographics of HUDS workers make students of color feel more welcome on campus”

Cambridge City Council Resolution Congratulating HGSU-UAW, 9/12

“RESOLVED: That the City Council go on record congratulating the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers and all other students who stand to benefit from this [NLRB] ruling.”

An Unprecedented Faculty Lockout. The Atlantic, 9/7

“Locking out a university’s faculty right before the start of classes seems like a drastic step, but that is just what Long Island University (LIU) did this weekend, when it barred all 400 members of its faculty union from its Brooklyn campus, cut off their email accounts and health insurance, and told them they would be replaced.”

Cleaning After Hours. The Atlantic, 9/6

“Everybody loves respect at work. It’s part of humanity.”

Fewer Unions, Lower Pay for Everybody. The Atlantic, 8/30

“The idea that union decline has led to greater income inequality is supported by two new papers from Washington-area think tanks.”