Harvard University and the union representing graduate student workers have reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract that forestalled a strike, and that the university says will increase union members’ compensation and benefits by $23.5 million.
The agreement, reached Monday after eight months of negotiations, provides the more than 4,500 members of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers with annual raises, expanded medical benefits, and a new legal fund to support workers in employment disputes, according to statements from the union and the university.
Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber confirmed the four-year pact in a brief message to faculty Monday night, saying the administration “will share information about the details of the agreement as that process moves forward.”
Union officials were not immediately available for comment.
Graduate student workers held a three-day strike in late October after negotiations with the university on three major issues — raises, harassment and discrimination protections, and union security — were unsuccessful, the union said at the time. More than 90 percent of members voted in favor of the strike, the union’s second in two years.
Members complained that Harvard would not budge on raises even as the university’s endowment, already the largest college fund in the world, grew to more than $53 billion during the pandemic, and the university reported a surplus operating budget of $283 million.
Both sides agreed to their first one-year contract in June 2020, more than two years after student workers voted to unionize. That contract included a 2.8 percent raise for research assistants and teaching fellows, a minimum wage of $16 per hour for non-salaried student workers, and a $17 minimum wage for hourly instructional workers.
The new contract will give salaried workers a 5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, followed by a 4 percent raise on July 1, 2022, and a 3 percent raise in both 2023 and 2024. Hourly workers will see their minimum wage lifted to $20 an hour, retroactive to July 1, from $16 or $17 per hour. That minimum will increase by 50 cents in 2022 and in 2023, according to the union and university.
New benefits include an additional $600,000 a year to cover co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses, dental costs, child care, dependent premiums, and emergencies. The contract also establishes a legal expense fund of $100,000 for each of its four years to assist student workers hiring lawyers to help them with workplace issues.
The union said it was not successful in securing some provisions it had sought, including the option of going to an independent arbitrator to resolve cases of gender discrimination and sexual harassment and the requirement that student workers who don’t join the union pay a fee in lieu of dues.
The union’s bargaining committee unanimously approved the agreement on Monday night; it must now be ratified by a vote of the full membership. Voting will begin Thursday and end Nov. 27, the union said.