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We’re Not The Same As A Union, Graduate Student Council Members Say

By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

Last week, in an email outlining his position on graduate student unionization, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 argued that existing bodies for graduate student representation, like the Graduate Student Council and the Harvard Graduate Council, are sufficient.

But several current and former members of the GSC executive board have contested that idea, arguing that that their work does not accomplish the same goals as the proposed union.

Several GSC members, including current president Masha Bertling and vice president Benjamin R. West, say the nature of the feedback they provide differs from the topics under the proposed union’s purview.

“Elected representatives represent the voices of these students in conversations about academic, administrative, and residential affairs,” West wrote in an email. “In contrast, I think that the union will focus on collective bargaining and negotiation. Rather than playing an advisory role, the union will engage in advocacy.”

Eligible students will head to the polls on April 18 and 19 to weigh in on whether to form a union to collectively bargain with the University on issues like stipend rates, healthcare, and housing.

In addition to highlighting graduate student government, Garber also listed resources like the Harvard International Office and Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, as channels students can use absent a union.

“Harvard students, individually and through elected student government, have long worked together with faculty and administrators to extend and improve student services,” Garber wrote. “Their collaborative efforts began well before paid organizers from the United Auto Workers came to our campuses.”

In an emailed statement on behalf of HGSU-UAW, John M. Nicoludis, a Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers wrote he feels the council lacks the degree of power a union would have to influence the deans’ decisions.

Members of the executive board of the GSC meet with deans of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences on a monthly basis to relay concerns and make suggestions on behalf of the student body.

GSAS Dean for Administration and Finance Allen D. Aloise wrote in an email that GSC input has led to major policy changes in the past, naming the increase in the MBTA Semester Pass subsidy, an increase in the Parental Accommodation and Financial Support, and free membership as examples.

Bertling, who noted that the Council remains neutral on the unionization issue, wrote in an email that the union might be able to argue for changes outside the GSC’s wheelhouse.

“Right now, GSC doesn't have an input as to how funding decisions are made. If anything, we are often informed post hoc and have an opportunity to provide comments on the decisions that have been made,” Bertling said. “I can imagine that lots of negotiations at such a level would transfer to the union.”

In his email, Aloise noted that the GSC will likely become more involved in budgeting in the future.

“Last year, the GSC asked how it could become more involved in the annual budget process and proposed the creation of a finance committee that would meet regularly with administrators,” he wrote. “GSAS agreed, and the GSC is in the process of finalizing the committee membership.”

Former GSC president Summer A. Shafer said that because a union would “wield the power of contract negotiation,” it could accomplish things than the council is not equipped to do.

“It might actually even make the GSC better, because it’ll force a redefinition of goals and priorities,” Shafer said.

“One holds the weight of federal law, and the other begs to be heard,” she added.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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