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Harvard reaches tentative one-year contract with graduate students union

Harvard graduate students went on strike in December as contract negotiations stalled.
Harvard graduate students went on strike in December as contract negotiations stalled.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Harvard University and the Harvard Graduate Students Union reached a tentative agreement Monday for their first contract, a one-year deal the union said was a “major victory” not only for its more than 4,000 members, “but also for the graduate student worker movement across the country.”

The deal includes a 2.8 percent raise for research assistants and teaching fellows, a minimum wage of $16 per hour for nonsalaried student workers, and a $17 minimum wage for hourly instructional workers, according to a message to faculty from Harvard provost Alan M. Garber.

The tentative deal also includes nearly $1 million in financial assistance for health and dental insurance, child care, and emergency situations, Garber said.

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The union, in a separate statement, said the tentative contract “provides important protections and guarantees while laying the groundwork to achieve even greater workplace rights and protections in future contracts.”

It must be ratified by the union’s membership before becoming official. If approved, the contract will run through the end of June 2021.

“We do think this is an important achievement and are recommending a yes vote,” said Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a Harvard Law School student and a member of the union’s bargaining committee.

Sandalow-Ash, 26, said the union is working to set up online voting for members and will allow a roughly two-week window, ending by June 30.

“Student workers have been fighting for this first contract since we formed our union over two years ago,” she said. “We’re glad to have secured pay increases, new funds for health care and child care, new health and safety protections that are especially important for our lab techs that have already returned to work.”

Graduate students at the Ivy League institution voted in April 2018 to unionize, and they began negotiating with Harvard later that year. As talks dragged on, union negotiators complained that Harvard would not budge on issues of pay, benefits, and protections from discrimination and harassment.

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In early December, hundreds of grad students dissatisfied with the progress of negotiations walked out of classes and away from campus jobs in the union’s first-ever strike. They ended their strike late that month, despite having not reached an agreement.

In response to student concerns about discrimination, the agreement includes union representation on the university’s Title IX Policy Review Committee and on two committees that will be newly created to “make recommendations on University policies and procedures for addressing other forms of discrimination and misconduct that do not fall under the federal Title IX regulations,” Garber said.

Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 bans discrimination on the basis of sex in education and provides the framework for reviewing sexual discrimination claims.

The deal also includes protections against retaliation for claims of discrimination, a guarantee that student workers won’t be pressured into accepting an informal resolution instead of filing a formal complaint, and access to an impartial panel to review appeals after an investigation into allegations is completed, Garber said.

Sandalow-Ash said the union’s victories were the result of years of organizing and taking action to protect workers’ rights, but the struggle will continue.

“This contract does not do everything we want,” she said. “We will have hard fights ahead of us for our second contract, but we think this forms a really strong foundation.”

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.