harvard university graduate student union collective bargaining strike picket
harvard university graduate student union strike

Harvard Graduate Students on Strike

The students’ union and the university could not reach an agreement on salary, health benefits, and harassment protections.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

View full profile.

Learn about our editorial policies.

Dec 4, 2019

ABOVE: Harvard University

After months of failed negotiations between Harvard University’s graduate student union and the school’s administration, students went on strike beginning Tuesday (December 2). At issue are health care benefits, pay, and procedures for addressing harassment, according to The Harvard Crimson.

“Our negotiations have not yielded a fair agreement,” Ege Yumusak, a PhD candidate on the bargaining committee, tells NPR. “[Most] importantly, we haven’t heard responses from the administration on our demands for our basic rights and protections, such as protections against harassment and discrimination, that other unionized workers on this campus have, as well as thousands of student workers across the nation.”

Specifically, the union is asking the university to set up an independent body to arbitrate in complaints of misconduct, according to NPR.

See “Harvard Teaching and Research Assistants Vote to Unionize

In its latest proposal, the union is also asking for a 5 percent pay raise, and 3.5 percent increases in subsequent years of the contract, 90 percent coverage of dental insurance premiums and 65 percent coverage of health insurance premiums for adult dependents, and a minimum workload of 17.5 hours a week to receive benefits, the Crimson reports. The school says it is reviewing those requests and finds the strike unwarranted.

“Student workers have [a] vital role in fulfilling Harvard’s teaching and research mission, and with that in mind, the University is committed to addressing concerns that have been raised throughout this process,” Harvard University spokesperson Jonathan Swain writes to the Crimson. “A strike will neither clarify our respective positions nor will it resolve areas of disagreement.”

Graduate students are picketing just as the semester is ending and finals are about to get underway. Faculty members tell the Crimson they may delay grading exams or change the format to account for missing teaching assistants. Dozens of professors have also promised not to penalize grad students’ academic performance while the students are on strike.

Kerry Grens is a senior editor and the news director of The Scientist. Email her at kgrens@the-scientist.com.