Thousands of unionized graduate student workers at Harvard University went on strike Dec. 3 after a last-ditch negotiation session Dec. 2 failed to produce an agreement.
The Harvard Graduate Student Union, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers, has been negotiating its first contract since October 2018. It authorized a strike in October and set a Dec. 3 deadline for a tentative deal.
The strike is a bold show of collective action by student workers who are under pressure to secure an agreement before possibly losing federal labor protections in the new year. The right for student workers to organize has been politically fraught, fluctuating depending on the political affiliation of National Labor Relations Board members.
The union’s asking for a 5% increase to salaries and stipends, “comprehensive and affordable” health care, and the ability for student workers to use union grievance procedures for discrimination and harassment claims.
Negotiations are ongoing and a strike is “unwarranted,” Harvard’s administration said in a statement Dec. 3.
“A strike will neither clarify our respective positions nor will it resolve areas of disagreement,” the university’s statement said.
The union’s 4,500 bargaining members are predominantly doctoral students but it also includes undergraduate and professional students, according to HGSU-UAW bargaining committee member Cory McCartan.
“We know that striking is a last resort and if any significant compromises are made we will be in touch with all membership,” the union’s bargaining committee said in an update the evening of Dec. 2. “This strike can end if the administration agrees to a fair contract. We urge all student workers to strike and picket every day to support a fair contract. We can only win by standing together now.”
No more bargaining sessions were scheduled, according to the union. But the university is actively reviewing a revised proposal set forth on compensation and benefits, a university spokesperson said.
The strike will continue until a fair contract is achieved, according to McCartan.
“There’ll be a short-term gain from this strike as far as Harvard students are concerned,” McCartan said. “But I think everyone here understands that this is about something bigger than that. Not only is this contract going to raise the standard of work for graduate students at Harvard but it has the potential to set a standard for graduate student contracts nationwide.”