News & Notes: Harvard graduate students plan to hold vote on unionization| Oct 18, 2016
Harvard University graduate students reached an agreement with Harvard University to hold an election next month on whether or not working graduate students and undergraduate teaching fellows should unionize, according to The Harvard Crimson.
“Graduate and undergraduate Teaching Fellows —teaching assistants, teaching fellows, course assistants,” may vote in the secret ballot election, according to the Stipulated Election Agreement. Undergraduate students serving as research assistants are excluded.
The group of pro-union graduate students, Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW), presented a petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled this summer that private universities must recognize student assistant unions, according to the Crimson.The Harvard administration has been historically opposed to graduate student unionization.
Harvard University President Drew Faust has repeatedly argued that a union of graduate students would change the relationship between students and Harvard from one based on academics to one based in labor, according tothe Crimson.
Harvard University is now required to allow its graduate students to engage in collective bargaining, according to the Crimson.
Princeton University took a similar stance against unionization earlier this year when itfiled a joint amicus brief to the National Labor Relations Board opposing a case calling for the unionization of graduate students .
The University "disagrees with the notion underlying the NLRB decision that a graduate student who is engaged in research or teaching in a given semester is transformed during that semester from a student into an employee," according to the Graduate School's frequently asked questions page.
However, in a town hall meeting on Oct. 13, more than sixty University graduate students gathered to discuss unionization.
Students discussed the benefits and drawbacks of the two organizations —the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union —that have reached out to graduate students with offers to help their campaign to negotiate a contract with the University, should they decide to unionize.
A vote took place on Oct. 18 to decide which organization the graduate studentswould partner with in future negotiations with the University. Such negotiations will ultimately decide whether or not a union will form.
According to the aforementioned frequently asked questions page, graduate students would only be considered employees forthe purposes of National Labor Relations Act, and not under other laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act or ones governing immigration.