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Harvard, Graduate Student Union Representatives Meet Officially Following NLRB Ruling

By Leah S. Yared, Crimson Staff Writer

University labor representatives and graduate student union organizers did not create a formal neutrality agreement during their first official meeting on Sept. 9, according to union spokesperson and Ph.D. student Jack M. Nicoludis.

The meeting took place as the union effort continues moving toward an election in which Harvard’s student employees will vote for or against establishing a union at the University.

Director of Harvard’s Office of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an email that the University “did not outright reject” a neutrality agreement, which would bar Harvard affiliates from interfering with union efforts. Curran added that the University hopes to “continue these discussions, not through the media, but directly with the HGSU-UAW.”

Curran invited the student organizers to the table in light of the National Labor Relations Board’s recent ruling recognizing student assistants at private universities as employees with collective bargaining rights.

The University intended to open a channel for communication with union organizers and discuss next steps, according to Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dean for administration and finance Allen Aloise, who attended the meeting. Two United Auto Workers representatives—part of an organized partnership established last fall in the movement to unionize students—were also present.

“We had an open and full discussion of the issues related to unionization. This is the beginning of a process we aim to continue in a productive way,” Curran wrote in the statement provided by GSAS director of communications Ann Hall.

But according to Nicoludis, administrators did not fulfill the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Worker’s request for a formal neutrality agreement similar to the one New York University graduate students crafted during their election process.

In NYU’s historic compromise with graduate student organizers in 2013, the university agreed to refrain from influencing the election vote or campaigning against unionization.

“The administration denied our request, in line with the anti-union rhetoric they have been distributing to both faculty and students that spreads misinformation about academic unions,” Nicoludis wrote in an email.

In a new push for signatures, organizers re-posted their neutrality petition to the HGSU-UAW Facebook page on Sept. 13, calling on the administration to “cease its manipulative anti-union efforts, especially when those efforts masquerade as the neutral presentation of information.” According to Nicoludis, the petition has been circulating “for a while now.”

Over the summer, the Office of the Provost uploaded a “frequently asked questions” page online about graduate student unionization, which organizers point to as an example of what they characterize as the administration’s anti-union rhetoric. But administrators maintain that their goal in publishing the list was to help students make an informed decision when they vote whether or not to authorize the HGSU-UAW as their union.

Union organizers see the list not as an informative tool, but as part of a campaign to influence student opinion. In an annotated version of the FAQ sheet posted on the HGSU-UAW website, dozens of organizers commented on the language used in the list. Organizers also highlighted phrases in some of the answers that they say are designed to “inject” uncertainty into the minds of those who will vote in an election.

Administrators previously said they published the document after some students requested additional information about the unionization effort.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

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