A More Perfect Union Election

Harvard should devote all necessary resources to a new, fair vote on student unionization

UPDATED: January 23, 2018 at 10:20 p.m.

The National Labor Relations Board recently dismissed Harvard’s appeal of its original decision to hold a second vote on the question of if eligible students should be able to unionize through the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers. As a result, a re-vote will be held, and both sides of the debate are gearing up for yet another campaign.

We understand that the revote will require additional resources from the University. Nevertheless, we believe that the expenditure of Harvard's resources is the only way to ensure a fair election that is free of suspicion. Given that Harvard appealed the NLRB’s original decision to hold a second vote, it would behoove the University to avoid any semblance of impropriety by putting the maximum effort possible into the new election. Additionally, Harvard’s non-compliance with voter list requirements in the original unionization vote heighten the need for a well-funded election process.

Simultaneously, by spending a large amount of resources on the debate preceding the vote, Harvard can make the discussion surrounding student unionization clearer and more substantive. As it stands, student unionization can be a polarizing issue. This severely affects conversations on unionization and can turn them into charged debates which lack a focus on substance. Unfortunately, this sort of discourse leaves little room for clear or open debate.

We thus believe that University resources should also contribute to ameliorating the conversation surrounding student unionization. Indeed, those overseeing the election should do everything in their power to facilitate a free yet clear exchange of ideas between those in favor and against unionization, perhaps by holding a public debate or through other measures.


As we have previously opined, unionization will not solve all the problems eligible students currently face, but it will have a large impact on their lives should it pass. Regardless of how the University chooses to act concerning the election, graduate students and eligible undergraduates therefore should carefully weigh the arguments for each option.

Some believe that the positions that are eligible for unionization—such as teaching fellows and research assistants—should not be considered jobs or working positions, but rather integral parts of academic scholarship. Others state that they are being unfairly treated by the University with respect to their work and their compensation for it. They also feel that the limited number of studies that exist on the subject, such as one from Cornell University, point in favor of the argument that graduate student employees who are unionized report higher earnings and more professional support.

The merits of the issue aside, if students do not know whether they are eligible to vote, the most important thing they can do is find out. Furthermore, if they are eligible, we urge them to educate themselves and then exercise their right to vote, no matter which side they support. Democratic institutions are powerless if people do not engage with them. And when it comes time for eligible students to vote, we hope that the election will be the final one on the matter.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Jan. 23, 2018

The editorial was updated to reflect the fact that Harvard has not publicly voiced concerns about the cost of the unionization revote.


Recommended Articles