Harvard grad students are attempting to unionize

Campus Reform Reporter

  • All three divisions of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are represented among the students hoping to unionize.
  • Grad student unions are rare; there have been attempts to unionize at Columbia, Brown, and Yale.
  • Graduate students at Harvard University are attempting to unionize, according to a report from The Harvard Crimson.

    Members of the movement are striving towards “a more centralized complaint system” and hope to “empower” students in negotiations with the university. Specifically, the group intends to focus on healthcare, dental care, and housing and family concerns.

    "Students interviewed by The Crimson would not disclose the group’s total membership but noted all three divisions of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are represented in its ranks."   

    Students interviewed by The Crimson would not disclose the group’s total membership but noted all three divisions of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are represented in its ranks.

    Though similar attempts are in the works at universities like Yale, student unionization efforts at other schools have typically failed. When graduate students at Brown University attempted to unionize in 2004, their efforts were shut down by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB’s decision ruled that “graduate teaching assistants are students – not statutory employees – and are therefore not an appropriate unit for collective bargaining.”

    While New York University recognizes a union of graduate assistants, Columbia University has not allowed similar efforts to succeed. The latter case is currently pending review by the NLRB. NYU is the nation’s only private university to recognize a graduate student union.

    NYU’s union has successfully negotiated pay increases, improved healthcare coverage, child care funding, and more.

    Harvard administrators have not yet commented on the unionization movement but Columbia officials have argued that teaching is critical to students’ learning experience and is a part of their studies at the university. They wrote in a statement that they, “believe that treating students as employees could adversely affect their educational experience.”

    Experts believe the current NLRB, which has a Democrat majority, will be friendly to students’ efforts to organize.

    Ruth Milkman, a labor expert at the City University of New York told The New York Times, “Given the success at N.Y.U. and some positive signals from the N.L.R.B., students at numerous schools are eager right now to pursue unionization… There’s good reason to think the N.L.R.B. will rule their way.”

    A representative from the group declined Campus Reform’s request to comment.

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