UAW Wins Representation Election Among Harvard Graduate Students

(Detroit Free Press/TNS) -

After a high-profile battle at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, Harvard student workers have elected to join the United Auto Workers with 56 percent in favor of organizing.

The National Labor Relations Board reported a vote of 1,931–1,523 in favor of joining the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers, ending a multiyear organizing campaign that included litigation.

Harvard officials were ordered last December to hold a new election after the labor board ruled that voter lists provided a year earlier by the school were incomplete.

Aaron Bekemeyer, 28, of Bloomfield Hills, a Ph.D. student in history, noted that a great-grandfather of his worked in a Ford plant. Bekemeyer said it never occurred to him that he might experience UAW membership while working at Harvard, but “I was really happy to be able to continue the process of giving workers some democratic power in the workplace.”

With this latest vote, more than 15,000 academic workers across the Northeast have chosen UAW representation over the past four years, bringing the national total to 75,000 academic workers. They include adjunct professors, graduate teaching assistants and researchers based at the University of California, University of Washington, New York University, University of Connecticut, Boston College and The New School in New York and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Many college researchers barely make rent while generating millions of dollars for a university, may wait months for paychecks or be required to work in laboratories with dirty water. The UAW offers expertise on job security, pay schedules, parental leave, harassment protections, health benefits, fair wages and retirement, members say.

Harvard spokeswoman Anna Cowenhoven said: “Harvard appreciates student engagement on this important issue. Regardless of the outcome, this election underscores the importance of the university’s commitment to continuing to improve the experience of our students.”

The UAW has diversified its membership in recent years and now represents more than 430,000 members from industries including academic workers, automotive workers, agricultural-equipment manufacturers and aerospace engineers.

About 40 percent of UAW’s members work outside the auto industry.

The UAW organizes on college campuses after being approached by activists, most often in urban settings such as New York City, where the cost of living is high and an annual wage can be as low as $28,000.

UAW dues range up to 2.5 percent of member pay — 50 cents of every dollar of dues goes to the local chapter, 45 cents goes to international and 5 cents goes to the strike and defense fund.