Resources for faculty

General Guidance on Contingency Planning for a Strike

The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) has voted in favor of authorizing their bargaining committee to call for a strike. Their bargaining team has set a deadline to strike by December 3, 2019 if a contract has not been agreed to by that time. 

While the scope of their labor action is entirely unknown, it is important to anticipate the impact that any potential action may have on courses, and how best to ensure the University can fulfill its academic mission and protect the vital teaching and research activities in the face of a work disruption.

While each member of the faculty may have a different approach to anticipating and managing through a work disruption, below are some suggestions to guide your preparation.

Plan ahead

Think about how your teaching and research are supported, and what you can do to keep them working in the absence of staff who are members of HGSU-UAW.

  • Will you be able to lead sections, grade projects/papers/tests, or administer exams? If not, whom will you ask to help? Please be aware that it may be challenging to identify, hire, and pay additional staff on very short notice. Should you have individuals in mind who might be able to step in, please consult with your department administrators prior to offering them work, as the University must assure that anyone who is asked to work is indeed eligible to do so per University, state, and Federal hiring policies. Keep in mind that it may take longer to train new support staff to do this work than the action will last. In the event of a shorter action, it is expected that instructional support staff will make up any work missed.
  • Will you need to move the physical location of your class meetings? Your Registrar’s Office can help with alternative room options, but you may wish to consider remote access as well. See the HUIT's suggestions for contingency planning. 
  • Research support. Are there aspects to your research that require constant oversight? Can you organize additional staff to be prepared to take on this work?

Consider assessment and grade alternatives

Have students submitted enough work to be assessed on work completed to date? Could you adjust the format of your final exam, should an action continue through the exam period? Department chairs and course heads may wish to consult on a best practice for courses in their departments, with respect to overall assessment.

Prioritize those soon to graduate

Perhaps you can assess and grade yourself the work of those who are scheduled to graduate this semester, so that their progress to the degree remains uninterrupted. In the event of a lengthy action, additional assessments for other students in your classes may be placed in queue for when instructional support staff return to work, or replacement staff is hired.

Remain sensitive to a variety of views

Some students, Teaching Assistants, and Faculty may wish to show solidarity with the Union by choosing not to attend class during this period; some Teaching Fellows and Course Assistants may wish to continue working. While the University respects the right of all community members to express their opinion, absence from class or failure to meet course requirements during any labor action may have consequences for a student’s grade.

Frequently asked questions

Who is included in Harvard Graduate Student Union–United Auto Workers bargaining unit?

The official definition of the HGSU-UAW bargaining unit is as follows:


“All students enrolled in Harvard degree programs employed by the Employer [Harvard] who provide instructional services at Harvard University, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Fellows (teaching assistants, teaching fellows, course assistants); and all students enrolled in Harvard degree programs (other than undergraduate students at Harvard College) employed by the Employer who serve as Research Assistants (regardless of funding sources, including those compensated...

Read more about Who is included in Harvard Graduate Student Union–United Auto Workers bargaining unit?

On legal guidance for managers

Can I ask student workers about their strike plans?

Individuals who hold supervisory roles over student workers, including faculty, should be cautioned not to question student workers about their strike activities, such as asking them whether they are going to strike, who else is going to strike, how many student workers are supporting the strike, what is the level of support for the strike, how long it will last.

On consequences for striking students

On strikes and academic matters

Will a strike affect the delivery of final student grades?

The University’s top priority remains that the integrity of its course offerings is not compromised due to this disruption. Any student who attends class and completes the required course work will not be penalized. It is possible some grading may be delayed if a disruption takes place.

How will the Harvard community be notified if classes are not meeting?

It is the University’s expectation that classes should not be disrupted. However, if there are cancellations individual schools will do their best to communicate that information in advance if possible. It is possible the University may not know in advance about a disruption to a class schedule. If that happens, information will be posted instructing students on how to proceed.

Can staff step in to cover a striking union member’s work?

Yes. Protecting the University’s academic mission remains a priority for the University and delivering curriculum to students is an essential part of that mission. There are no restrictions on ensuring that work gets done. Faculty/managers have the right to hire additional staff, shift duties to current staff, or make arrangements for non-striking student workers to perform extra work for extra compensation.