Update on HGSU-UAW Negotiations and Proposal for Mediation

December 19, 2019
Yesterday the University and Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) met for our 29th bargaining session. We exchanged additional revised proposals and continued to make progress in our negotiations, reaching tentative agreements on six more articles.

Among the proposals the University put forward yesterday was a new compensation proposal with an 8.2% increase over three years for research assistants (7.2% for teaching fellows) and increasing the minimum hourly rate to $16 for research work (alongside our previous proposal of $17 per hour for instructional work, up from the current minimum rate of $12 per hour). The University also offered compensation for teaching fellows when their appointments are cancelled due to low course enrollments. Additionally, the University increased the financial assistance fund for child care to $325,000 per year and offered a new financial assistance fund totaling $100,000 per year for reimbursement of co-pays incurred under Harvard’s Student Health Insurance Plan, which includes co-pays for mental health visits. Collectively, the University has now offered to create more than $800,000 in new funds to assist student workers with dental and dependent health care premiums, insurance co-pays and child care. You can find information on these and other proposals from the University online.

Although these proposals reflect the University’s continued good-faith commitment to these negotiations – we have reached tentative agreements on 18 articles – movement has been minimal on remaining areas of substantial disagreement between the parties. The continued challenges to finalizing an initial and very complex contract with this Union – one that consists of students who are here primarily for their academic pursuits but also perform part-time work – is something that we hope can be resolved in the month ahead.

Toward that goal, we believe that the parties would now be best served by utilizing the services of a mediator to help us resolve remaining issues. For that reason, today the University proposed to HGSU-UAW that we engage the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and have them appoint a federal mediator to assist us. The FMCS is a government agency that, since 1947, has provided mediation services to labor and management to assist them in reaching agreement in their collective bargaining negotiations. It is common to have a mediator help the parties move forward after exhaustive efforts at the table have fallen short. You can learn more about FMCS collective bargaining mediation on its website.

Although a mediator does not have authority to impose a final contract or to determine actual contract terms, a mediator can work confidentially with the parties with the aim of bringing the two sides to an agreement. It would be our hope that the mediator would find ways to navigate past the barriers that both parties have encountered throughout many hours at the bargaining table in order to reach an agreement. We are hopeful that HGSU-UAW will accept this opportunity to move the negotiations forward through mediation.

As you are aware, HGSU-UAW has been on strike since December 3. The University continues to feel the HGSU-UAW strike is unwarranted, given that both sides are engaging at the bargaining table. I want to once again express my appreciation to the faculty, staff and student workers who have worked hard to ensure that all of our students will be able to complete their academic work this semester. As I said in my message last week, this commitment to our students and to the University’s highest priority, our academic mission, is a demonstration of the values that we all share.

As the holidays draw near, we reiterate the University’s commitment to addressing concerns raised during these negotiations, and to reaching a reasonable resolution with HGSU-UAW.


Alan M. Garber AB '77, PhD '82
Harvard University