The Executive Board of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, American Federation of Teachers 3544, which represents 1,400 graduate employees at the University of Oregon, writes in support of the members of the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers currently on strike. We urge Harvard University administration to listen to Harvard graduate workers and to agree to a fair contract that values their important contributions to the university as educators and researchers.
The struggle that HGSU is waging and the provisions that Harvard graduate workers are seeking – comprehensive affordable health care, wages that keep up with the rising cost of living, protections for discrimination and harassment – will resonate with graduate employees all over the country. These are the same issues that university administrations have forced graduate employees to contend with time and again in different contexts, demonstrating the need for further graduate employee union organizing and for a fundamental transformation of undemocratic university systems.
GTFF, one of the country’s oldest graduate employee unions, recently concluded year-long negotiations with University of Oregon administration and only reached an agreement after more than 1,000 graduate employees voted to authorize a strike. GTFF members collectively withstood the University of Oregon (UO) administration’s attempt to impose drastic cuts to our health care. UO admin repeatedly offered wage proposals that did not keep up with rising costs, denied consideration of housing issues, and engaged in discriminatory bargaining maneuvers with regard to international graduate employees.
As GTFF members, we stood firm through our union to secure wage increases and crucial provisions related to paid training, childcare subsidies, paid parental leave, and protections for international graduate employees from ICE. In the same way, Harvard graduate workers are striving for necessary gains in terms of minimum hourly wages, health care that includes sufficient coverage for dental and mental health and for dependents, and instituting an independent third-party arbitrator to handle harassment and discrimination. HGSU members are literally holding the line for themselves and, in turn, for other graduate employees and working people who are devalued and denied basic dignity and respect in their jobs.
With a multibillion-dollar endowment and global stature, Harvard University has more than enough resources and institutional power to agree to a fair contract for its graduate workers. By providing Harvard graduate workers what they need, university administrators can demonstrate that they value graduate workers, who will go on to pursue vital academic and professional positions, while also serving broader institutional goals. After all, graduate employee working conditions are student learning conditions, and graduate employees make significant contributions to the university’s research mission. GTFF is proud to extend support to our union cousins in HGSU as they continue their struggle for a fair contract!