HGSU-UAW Negotiations Update

September 20, 2021

Negotiations for a contract renewal between the University and the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) are ongoing. The University remains firmly committed to reaching an agreement and continues to engage with the HGSU-UAW in good faith. Today, the University has again proposed to HGSU-UAW that our two sides appoint a federal mediator in order to move the negotiations forward to a resolution that is workable, fair, and ensures the success of all our graduate students.

Over the last several weeks, there has been tangible progress in the negotiations. The University has proposed a comprehensive package addressing the remaining areas of the contract on which we are working toward agreement. Currently, tentative agreements have been reached on five articles. However, differences remain in the areas of compensation, benefits, and non-discrimination procedures, as well as HGSU-UAW’s proposal requiring all student workers either to join the union or to pay a fee or fine equivalent to union dues, should they choose not to join.

Having achieved agreement in important areas, we believe that both sides can benefit from the assistance of a federal mediator in closing remaining differences. It was after the appointment of a mediator that in 2020 we reached the first contract agreement between HGSU-UAW and the University.

A Proposed $14-million (or 11%) Increase in Compensation and Benefits

The University’s current comprehensive proposal provides strong compensation and benefits that will continue to support the important work of our student workers. Over the three years of the contract, this amounts to an approximately $14-million (or 11%) increase in compensation and benefits (with a new dental insurance provision) above the levels of the first HGSU-UAW contract, including:


  • An 8.5% increase in compensation over three years. A 2.5% increase in year one, effective upon ratification of the agreement, with a 3% increase effective July 1, 2022 (FY23) and a 3% increase effective July 1, 2023 (FY24).
  • Increases in the minimum hourly pay rate for non-salaried student workers. Raising the minimum hourly pay rate to $19 for non-salaried student workers, with an increase to $19.50 per hour on July 1, 2022 and to $20 per hour on July 1, 2023. The current minimum rates are $16 and $17 an hour, depending on the nature of the work.
  • A 66% increase above the first contract’s senior teaching rate for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Raising the teaching rate at the School to $5,817 in the first year of the contract, to meet the union’s stated goal of parity with teaching fellows at other Harvard Schools. For the junior teaching rate, the proposed increase is 48%, to $5,185, in the first year of the contract. Both teaching rates would increase in FY23 and FY24 in line with the University’s proposed 3% increases indicated above.


  • A $1.8-million increase in five benefits pools, to be allocated across the pools as HGSU-UAW chooses. A $600,000 increase in year one of the contract, which equates to a more than 63% increase to the current $950,000 total across the five pools (Dependent Health Care Premium Fund, Copay/Out-of-pocket Expense Fund, Dental Fund, Child Care Fund, Emergency Fund). An additional $600,000 increase in both the second and third years of the contract, which by year three will increase the pools to $2.75 million, nearly three times their current size. The total amount of money that the University will commit to these pools over the life of the contract would be $6.45 million – which is $3.6 million more than under the present pool commitments.
  • A separate pool for legal fees for international student workers. A separate pool of $30,000 for international students to help pay for legal expenses related to their ability to work at the University.
  • Expanded access to the benefits pools to include hourly workers. Effective January 1, 2022, hourly student workers who work a total of 455 hours in a designated six months of the academic year – July through December or January through June – will be eligible to access the benefits pools during the following six-month period of the academic year.
  • An additional preventive dental plan beginning in FY23 with 75% of the premium covered by the University for salaried PhDs. The University will begin offering a preventive dental plan beginning in FY23, with 75% of the premium covered by the University for salaried PhDs. Those who elect the comprehensive dental plan instead may apply the dollar equivalent of the 75% of the premium for the preventive plan to premium payments for the comprehensive plan.

Protections for Canceled Courses

Our tentative agreements include new language that would more than triple the compensation a Teaching Fellow receives upon cancellation of a course or section that they had agreed to teach. The Teaching Fellow would now be paid 70% instead of the current 20% of the compensation they would have received for the course or section had it not been cancelled.

Compensation Security Under Allegations of Harassment and Other Conditions

We have also tentatively agreed to new provisions that state the following: when no other appointment can be made, a Research Assistant will be paid at least 75% of the remaining balance of their total compensation for a 10- or 12-month period if the Research Assistant “chooses to leave their appointment due to their allegations of discrimination or harassment or abusive/intimidating behavior and pursues a formal or informal resolution of such claims under University policy.”

This provision would also apply if their appointment ends due to the departure of a faculty member to whom the Research Assistant is assigned or other circumstances where the appointment is ended by the University prior to its completion except in cases of discharge (the first contract only indicates that there will be efforts to find another position but offers no pay).

Ability to Appeal Certain Discrimination Cases to an Independent Arbitrator

The University has also proposed the opportunity to appeal certain discrimination cases to an independent arbitrator.

  • For cases involving alleged discrimination, or abusive or intimidating behavior, the student worker complainant or respondent may choose to either appeal through the University’s internal appeals process or file a grievance under Article 6 of the HGSU-UAW contract. If the student worker files a grievance, the union decides whether to take the grievance to arbitration, in accordance with the contract. If HGSU-UAW chooses not to bring the case to arbitration, the student worker may go back and appeal through the University’s internal process.
  • The basis for a grievance filed by a student worker is whether the investigator(s) or decision-maker(s) involved in the initial determination of the claim had a conflict of interest or bias for or against either party that could have reasonably been seen as influencing the outcome of the claim to the detriment of the student worker.
  • Cases involving Title IX or other gender-based claims covered under the federal Title IX regulations may not be appealed through this arbitration process. Among other concerns, such an approach could violate federal regulations that require an equitable process available to all parties, including faculty, employees and students who are not members of the bargaining unit.

This proposal adds to the work currently underway by the Discrimination and Bullying Policy Steering Committee and Working Groups, which were convened earlier this year. These groups were created in conjunction with the first HGSU-UAW contract and include representation from the union. We anticipate that these groups will issue their recommendations concerning University policy and procedures in the coming months.

Our student workers have a vital role in the University’s academic and research mission, and we remain committed to reaching agreement on a contract that includes strong support for their work. We will continue to update you on the status of the HGSU-UAW negotiations in the weeks ahead.


Alan M. Garber, Provost