Harvard announced on Tuesday that it would collectively bargain with the university’s newly formed graduate student. The decision came a week after graduate students voted in favor of unionization in a National Labor Review Board-sponsored school-wide election.
In an email to the News, Lena Eckert-Erdheim GRD ’20, co-president of Yale’s graduate student union, Local 33, expressed excitement for Harvard’s graduate students and noted that Local 33 and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers have faced similar issues and “worked together for years.”
“This shows how unnecessary Yale’s refusal to bargain has been, and we hope they’ll follow Harvard’s constructive example,” Eckert-Erdheim said.
Yale has refused to negotiate with Local 33 since graduate students in eight departments voted to unionize in NLRB-sanctioned elections last year.
And despite Harvard’s move to recognize its graduate student union, University spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in a statement to the News on Wednesday that Yale does not plan to change its position, citing the need for “legal clarity” on whether graduate students have the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.
In his statement, Conroy reiterated the University’s “core conviction” that Yale graduate students are primarily “students learning to be scholars and teachers, with teaching assistant opportunities built into the graduate student curriculum,” rather than employees.
He also highlighted the “stark contrast” between Harvard’s schoolwide unionization election, in which 5,000 students were eligible to vote, and Local 33’s smaller, departmental elections. The students in the departments that voted to unionize ultimately represented less than 10 percent of the overall graduate student population, Conroy noted.
Last spring, Yale appealed the results of Local 33’s vote to the NLRB, arguing that the labor board’s regional branch erred in permitting departmental elections and that graduate students at private universities should not have the right to unionize. In February, Local 33 withdrew its petitions of recognition to the NLRB, fearing that the labor board’s new conservative majority might use Yale’s case as an opportunity to roll back the 2016 decision allowing graduate students at private universities to unionize.
For similar reasons, graduate student unions at the University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Boston College recently ceased their efforts to unionize through the NLRB.
Adelaide Feibel | firstname.lastname@example.org