In recog­nis­ing post­grad­u­ate union, Har­vard puts pres­sure on oth­ers

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Jack.grove@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Har­vard Univer­sity’s agree­ment that it will ne­go­ti­ate with a new trade union formed by post­grad­u­ates is likely to in­crease the pres­sure on other lead­ing US in­sti­tu­tions to fol­low suit.

Har­vard said that it would for­mally recog­nise the union rep­re­sent­ing more than 5,000 re­search and teach­ing as­sis­tants, af­ter post­grad­u­ates paid to teach classes on cam­pus voted 1,931 to 1,523 in favour of af­fil­i­at­ing with the United Auto Work­ers, which rep­re­sents many US higher ed­u­ca­tion staff.

The Har­vard Grad­u­ate Stu­dent Union is now the largest union of aca­demic work­ers at a pri­vate univer­sity in the US, where many in­sti­tu­tions have re­sisted calls to recog­nise grad­u­ate stu­dent unions on the grounds that stu­dents are not em­ploy­ees.

In an email to staff and stu­dents on 2 May, Alan Gar­ber, Har­vard’s provost, wrote that “in light of the out­come of the vote…Har­vard is pre­pared to be­gin good-faith ne­go­ti­a­tions” with the new union.

The newly recog­nised or­gan­i­sa­tion was keen to make progress on a number of is­sues, in­clud­ing “sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, im­proved con­di­tions for international work­ers, pre­dictable work­loads, com­pen­sa­tion and more”, said Justin Bloesch, a PhD can­di­date in eco­nom­ics, who praised Har­vard for “do­ing the right thing and hon­or­ing the re­sults of our ma­jor­ity vote in favour of a union”.

The de­ci­sion by one of Amer­ica’s top-ranked uni­ver­si­ties ends its longheld re­sis­tance to ne­go­ti­ate with the grad­u­ate stu­dent union, which has been seen at other Ivy League in­sti­tu­tions. They have ar­gued that in­volv­ing stu­dents in the work­place bar­gain­ing process would dis­rupt op­er­a­tions because ne­go­ti­a­tions could in­clude such core mat­ters as class length, the amount of grad­ing, or what is in­cluded in the cur­ricu­lum, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported.

Last month, Columbia Univer­sity grad­u­ate stu­dents staged a walk­out af­ter more than a year of ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a con­tract with ad­min­is­tra­tors, while pe­ti­tions have also been launched by grad­u­ate stu­dents at Bos­ton Col­lege, the Univer­sity of Chicago and Yale Univer­sity for for­mal recog­ni­tion, the Post said.

In the UK, PhD stu­dents who en­gage in paid teach­ing are en­ti­tled to join the Univer­sity and Col­lege Union and, since Oc­to­ber 2017, have qual­i­fied for free mem­ber­ship for up to four years. They are still, how­ever, clas­si­fied as stu­dents, de­spite moves by some in­sti­tu­tions to re­con­sider this sta­tus.

In many Euro­pean countries, in­clud­ing Swe­den, Nor­way, Den­mark, Ger­many and the Nether­lands, doc­toral can­di­dates are gen­er­ally treated as em­ploy­ees rather than stu­dents, al­low­ing them ac­cess to ben­e­fits such as hol­i­day and sick pay.

“Un­like some uni­ver­si­ties that have cho­sen to de­lay bar­gain­ing with years of ex­pen­sive and point­less lit­i­ga­tion, Har­vard is re­spect­ing the demo­cratic and le­gal rights of its grad­u­ate work­ers,” said Julie Kush­ner, re­gional di­rec­tor of the United Auto Work­ers union.

“Har­vard is tak­ing the high road, and we look for­ward to en­gag­ing in a pro­duc­tive di­a­logue with them.”

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