Harvard Students Battle For Union


SUPPORTERS of Harvard’s student unionisation effort held a rally in the Yard and delivered a petition to Massachusetts Hall on Wednesday, urging the University to drop its appeal to the federal National Labour Relations Board (NLRB).

The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers’ rally, held on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s election, accused Harvard of relying on the majority-Republican NLRB to stack the deck against the union effort.

Graduate student and union organiser Niharika N. Singh said during a speech at the rally: ‘It is not OK to use the Trump administration appointments to the labour board to roll back workers’ rights everywhere. It is not OK to deny your student-workers the right to a fair, democratic process.’

Union supporters rallied on the same day as US Senator Bernie Sanders penned a letter urging University President Drew G. Faust to support student unionisation. Sanders wrote: ‘I urge you to support the legal rights of research and teaching assistants at your university to form unions and bargain in good faith with them. After all, these workers are key to the success of your university.’

In July, the NLRB ruled that Harvard had not provided an adequate list of eligible voters ahead of the November 2016 unionisation election. By law, employers must distribute a list of all workers who are eligible to vote before union elections.

Weeks later, Harvard appealed that ruling to the five-person NLRB, labour law’s highest ruling body. Trump recently appointed two new Republican members and the board now has a conservative majority. It is unclear whether the board will decide to hear the case and, if so, when it will release its decision.

Harvard administrators have argued that the University is not trying to skirt labour law, instead holding that the original election was valid. A statement by Harvard University spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven said: ‘Students were well-informed, voted in large numbers, and, according to the initial vote count, voted against forming a union.

‘The University believes that the November 2016 election results, which reflect the votes and voices of well-informed students, should stand, and has appealed the Regional Director’s decision to the contrary.’

Abhinav Reddy, an alumnus of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who is still organising for HGSU-UAW, said he supports unionisation because students might not be able to ‘count on administrators here to look out for the best interests of me and my peers’.

He said that, as a graduate from the university he is disappointed that Harvard appealed to the federal NLRB. Reddy said: ‘It appals us to see my university’s name in the news, seeing them try to union bust, seeing them try to get in the way of democratic processes all across the country.’

Harvard has claimed that the decision to appeal does not deny voters’ democratic rights. A statement on the Harvard management website said: ‘Harvard students voted in large numbers, and they voted against unionisation, a fact that the HGSU-UAW does not acknowledge.

‘To drop the appeal and agree to a second election would be to ignore the votes and voices of the majority of eligible voters that were expressed through this election process. Harvard believes their votes should be respected and be allowed to stand.’

A group of faculty members voiced their support for the HGSU-UAW. Kennedy School professor Timothy P. McCarthy said he thought most faculty members support the union. McCarthy said: ‘We understand how hard graduate students work, how much graduate students teach, how vulnerable graduate students are.

‘The question of student unionisation is a no-brainer,’ because workers have a right to unionise.

Hundreds gathered for the protest. Members of other advocacy groups, including the undergraduate Student Labour Action Movement, also spoke at the event. Meanwhile, when the US Congress House Ways and Means Committee debated the tax bill yesterday, Republicans voted down the ‘Stop Outsourcing of American Jobs’ amendment offered by Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett from Texas.

The ‘Stop Outsourcing of American Jobs’ amendment would require that multinational corporations, looking to invest offshore, pay the same tax rate as small businesses or domestic companies investing in America.

The amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, with 16 Democrats voting in favour and 23 Republicans voting against. Doggett said: ‘President Trump has made stopping the outsourcing of American jobs a central element of his promise to the American people. Unfortunately, like his promise to have Mexico pay for his unnecessary wall, it’s very much a broken promise.

‘It is flat wrong that the corner pharmacy should have to pay a rate that is substantially higher on its operations than Pfizer on its operations. My amendment would ensure that both are treated the same way – that we tax profits earned abroad the same way that they are taxed here at home.

‘Under the Republican tax bill, a small business that creates jobs on Main Street USA would pay US taxes on its profits at a rate of 20%, while a big corporation that outsources those same jobs to Ireland or Switzerland would pay no US taxes on the profits it earns from outsourcing.’

Elsewhere, on November 2nd, seven tobacco farm workers signed a settlement agreement with Wayne Day, a tobacco grower in Paint Lick, Kentucky, ending their almost month-long strike. For the past three years, the workers came from Mexico through the H2A guest worker programme to work for Day who systematically cheated them out of the minimum wage.

With the backing of the Farm Labour Organising Committee (FLOC), the workers initiated a strike on October 11, 2017, refusing to return to work until Day agreed to pay them back all stolen wages. The FLOC members negotiated a settlement this week totalling $20,000 of back wages and attorney’s fees!

Cristian Santillan, one of the victorious striking workers, said: ‘We didn’t know we were launching the first tobacco strike in recent Kentucky history but we got the grower’s attention by doing so, and we are glad that with the help of FLOC, he was pressured to pay us much of the wages we lost over the three seasons of underpayment.’

Now that the workers have received their stolen wages, they are planning to return to their families in Nayarit and Hidalgo, Mexico. Two of the strikers, Adolpho Osorio and Francisco Gonzales, have had babies born to their wives since they left for this gruelling work. FLOC will continue to visit tobacco farm workers in the area to encourage more workers to speak out against abuses.