For more than forty years, graduate students concerned by their lack of voice and security have occasionally considered organizing a union. In recent years, many of the students involved in organizing our union at Harvard were initially part of a variety of graduate student advocacy groups, but became frustrated with the lack of progress and accountability on important issues from the administration.
Columbia Graduate Workers-UAW File NLRB Petition
December, 2014: Graduate workers at Columbia filed a petition with the NLRB, setting in motion the process that would restore student employees’ rights to collective bargaining and spurring graduate employees at Harvard and around the country to begin organizing to gain the security of a union.
Partnering with an International Union
Spring, 2015: Grad students at Harvard began researching our best options for winning a graduate employee union at Harvard, including talking to grads from UMass Boston, Columbia, the New School, Yale, Cornell, the University of Chicago, and NYU. We reached out to and met with representatives from multiple international unions, including UNITE HERE, SEIU, AFT, and UAW. A committee of grads tasked with researching this question recommended moving forward with the UAW given the union’s unparalleled experience with graduate employee organizing in the Northeast at NYU, Columbia, UConn, UMass Amherst and UMass Boston.
Summer, 2015: Over the summer, we began communicating with the UAW to build a representative organizing committee that reflects our diverse membership across all departments, divisions, and schools, encompassing RAs, TFs, TAs, and CAs.
Building a Diverse and Representative Committee
September, 2015: The Harvard Graduate Students Union organizing committee voted to work with the UAW and launch an authorization card drive with the UAW
Growing National Movement
October 15th, 2015: HGSU-UAW took part in a national “We Are Workers” day among public and private university grad student unions, declaring that all student workers should be recognized as employees and have the right to collective bargaining.
December, 2015: A majority of student employees have signed union authorization cards with HGSU-UAW.
April 28, 2016: Student workers from all over Harvard’s campuses joined together to have our majority support independently certified and to call on the university to agree to a neutral process free from anti-union pressure from administrators.
National Labor Board Ruling
August, 2016: Student workers from all over Harvard’s campuses joined together again to celebrate the ruling and show our support for our union. With the support of fellow community and labor leaders, we urged Harvard to respect our right to form a union and commit to remaining neutral during our election.
Petition Filed and Election Agreement
October 18, 2016: After spending half the semester organizing and talking to new student workers, the HGSU-UAW organizing committee filed a petition with the NLRB to schedule an election. Harvard signed an election agreement, which allowed us to move past litigation and hearings and schedule a timely vote on November 16th & 17th.
November 16 & 17, 2016: Over two days of voting across three campuses, thousands of graduate and undergraduate student workers from every school at Harvard turned out to cast their vote on unionization. This was the first vote at a private university after the Columbia NLRB decision. Voter turnout was unprecedented, including hundreds of students not on the official list who voted under challenge. Immediately after the vote, members of the HGSU-UAW organizing committee began working at the NLRB in downtown Boston to resolve as many of these challenged cases as possible before starting the vote count. Since then we have put in hours of research to ensure that eligible workers are considered and that the outcome will be the result of a fair and democratic process. We look forward to winning our union and coming together to have a voice in our working conditions at Harvard.