Harvard graduate student workers will get second crack at forming union

Rowers paddled down the Charles River near the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Harvard’s Cambridge campus.

Harvard graduate student workers will likely get a second chance to vote on forming a union, after a November election ended with a disputed tally, labor activists said Thursday.

In a statement, the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW said the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that “concerns over Harvard’s list of eligible voters” during the election were “valid and could lead to another election.”

The statement quoted an excerpt from the NLRB report, which found that Harvard “has not substantially complied with the voter list requirements.” The NLRB recommended that the student group’s “objection be sustained and that, if a revised tally of ballots does not result in the [group] receiving a majority of the valid votes cast, the results of this election be set aside and a new election be directed.”


Niharika Singh, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Public Policy, welcomed the news.

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“We are encouraged by the hearing officer’s decision, as Harvard graduate workers believe that if given a fair election, Harvard graduate workers will choose to join together to collectively bargain,” Singh said in a statement.

“By joining the UAW, we gain a national voice in advocating on issues we care about, like protections for international student workers and protections from discrimination and harassment.”

A Harvard spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday night.

The votes cast Nov. 16 and 17 totalled 1,272 in favor of unionization and 1,456 against, union advocates have said, but 314 ballots were challenged over eligibility concerns, prompting the review by the NLRB. The voters were research assistants and graduate students.


It was not clear on Thursday night when a new election will be held.

“Any future election will depend on the outcome of a revised tally of votes” from the last election, the student group said in its statement. “Under the NLRB process, Harvard University has an opportunity to file exceptions to the recommendation to the regional director. The deadline to do so is May 3.”

Backers of unionization, who worked to rally support for more than year, are advocating for compensation, health care, and workload protections, according to the student group.

The November election came less than a month after a similar election at Columbia University, where graduate students voted by a significant margin to unionize with the UAW.

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.