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Harvard Graduate Students Union votes to ratify contract with university

Harvard graduate students picketed in Harvard Yard in December 2019.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Members of the union representing graduate student workers at Harvard University have voted to accept a new four-year labor contract that will raise wages, expand health care benefits, and create a legal support fund for workers, the union said.

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers Local 5118 said in a statement Saturday that more than 70 percent of its members who voted had approved the contract, following eight months of negotiations with the university. It is the second contract between the union and the university since student workers voted to unionize in 2018.

“Now that the contract is ratified, we enter a new phase in our union’s history,” union President Brandon J. Mancilla said in the statement. “We still have not achieved some important goals, but this contract gives us a chance to immediately improve our working and living conditions and gain the time to develop an organizing plan for the future. Ratifying a contract does not mean organizing and pressure campaigns stop. With an employer like Harvard, unions always have to be ready to fight back.”

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on Nov. 15, the day before a strike was set to begin, the union’s statement said. Members voted to pause the strike to allow a ratification vote on the contract. Student workers previously went on strike for three days in late October, an action that was supported by more than 90 percent of union members.


The university has said the contract represents a $23.5 million increase in compensation and benefits for student workers.

“This contract reflects the University’s ongoing, strong commitment to our student workers and we are pleased to see it ratified. We look forward to working with union leadership on its implementation,” Jason Newton, a Harvard spokesman, said in an e-mail Sunday night.


The new contract gives salaried workers a 5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, plus a 4 percent raise effective July 1, 2022, the union said. Hourly workers will receive a minimum of $20 per hour with a raise to $21 per hour by July 1, 2023.

The previous contract between the union and the university was agreed to in June 2020 and included a 2.8 percent raise for research assistants and teaching fellows, a minimum of $16 per hour for non-salaried workers, and a $17 minimum wage for hourly instructional workers.

Benefits in the new contract 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 there were additional provisions that it had sought but were not included in the final contract, including the option to take cases of sexual harassment and gender discrimination to an independent arbitrator, full arbitration for identity-based discrimination that is not covered by Title IX, and a requirement for student workers who don’t join the union to pay a fee in lieu of dues.

The contract is set to expire on June 30, 2025, the union said.

Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.

Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.