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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal | News Briefs

Graduate-Student Unionization

July-August 2017

Following the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) tentative decision in April to order new balloting in the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers campaign to organize graduate students, the University filed an objection. The path forward remains unclear: a new election could take place as early as next fall, or, if the case gets tied up in more legal hearings, much later, or not at all.

In April, the hearing officer ruled that Harvard had excluded from its eligible voter list many students who should have been able to vote in last November’s election, and thus a new election should take place if the final vote count does not result in a union victory. That decision has not yet been approved by the NLRB’s Boston regional director. The union has argued that Harvard’s exclusion of some eligible students from the voter list created confusion over eligibility and discouraged voting.

In rebuttal, Harvard spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in a statement: “Questions about the list of eligible voters—the basis for the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) claim for a new election—ignore the facts. Thousands of students voted, including a majority of those found by the NLRB Hearing Officer to have been omitted from the voter list, and most of those ballots have already been counted. Students were highly engaged, and after nearly two years of organizing on campus by the HGSU-UAW, thousands voted in the November 2016 election—a majority in opposition to unionization.”

Harvard’s protracted election process now increasingly resembles those elsewhere. At Yale, where a majority of students in some departments voted to unionize, organizers undertook a hunger strike in an attempt to force the administration to begin contract negotiations. Yale has challenged the legitimacy of the department-by-department balloting and has asked the national office of the NLRB to review its case; if the board agrees to hear it, that could put cases at Harvard and elsewhere on hold. Finally, a reconstituted NLRB under President Donald Trump might revoke the right of private university students to unionize, rendering the elections at Harvard and other universities moot.

Read more at harvardmag.com/union-appeal-17.

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