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. Before a strike begins, faculty should be encouraged to update their students about academic expectations through their usual channels of communication (e.g., my.harvard, Canvas, email lists). They may also want to inquire about any priority grading needs (e.g., grades needed for graduate school or fellowship application deadlines).

  • 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.

Prior to the announced strike date, you should have access to all the information needed to assign final grades, including up-to-date grading sheets, section and participation attendance records, and other assessments. Faculty who encounter any issues obtaining relevant information from a student worker before the strike should contact their Academic Dean for further guidance.

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. Work with your local registrar to identify any students enrolled in your classes who are planning to graduate at the end of the fall semester so that you can prioritize grading for these students during a strike. 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

*New guidance* 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.

Once a strike has commenced, faculty may ask student workers whether they plan to continue to work. In doing so, they should be very careful not to threaten or coerce the student worker to continue to work in any way or to otherwise question the student worker about the strike itself. They may also verify, either by checking themselves or by asking student workers, whether sections/planned reviews are being held or whether lab assignments have been addressed.

See also: Strike - legal

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On consequences for striking students

What discipline could striking students face?

Members of the bargaining unit are exercising a protected right under the National Labor Relations Act and would not be disciplined for being on strike. However, HGSU-UAW members who don’t report to work during a strike or disruption may risk not being paid.In addition, the student workers would be expected to continue to meet their academic obligations in order to remain students in good standing. While they are allowed to strike, they still must attend any required classes as students and otherwise meet the academic requirements for their degree, including progress in their academic research.

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On strikes and academic matters

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.

With appropriate local approvals and policy compliance, faculty may hire staff to do the work the strike is leaving undone. Such staff may include:

  • preceptors, lecturers, other non-ladder faculty
  • course assistants and teaching fellows/assistants in the bargaining unit who have chosen not to strike
  • teaching assistants who are not Harvard students
  • qualified staff who are not Harvard affiliates

Any payment for such services should be discussed with the Administrative Deans before any commitment is made. Faculty and other supervisors are, of course, also free to do any needed work themselves.

How will I know if the instructional support staff for my course go on strike?

As noted elsewhere in this guidance, in order to avoid any suggestion of coercion, supervisors should not ask student workers about their strike plans in advance of the start of a strike. However, once a strike has commenced, it will be essential to know whether your instructional staff are teaching or grading student work. Here are several suggested approaches:

  • When a strike has commenced, you could send an email to all instructional staff in your course, asking them to let you know if they will be covering their sections and grading during the strike
  • If you have just one TF, TA, or CA, you can ask them directly if they will be working during the strike
  • Have someone check the rooms where the class is held
  • Ask the students enrolled in the course if their class was held

If this strike is for an extended duration, may I make adjustments to assignments, course meetings, or course requirements?

Faculty are responsible for teaching course material, and students are responsible for learning it. However, the forms of teaching and learning may need to change if there's a strike, particularly if it goes on for some time. We rely on faculty discretion in making necessary adjustments, always with the best interest of students in mind. Such adjustments could include: reducing the number of independent assessments being carried out, having students work in pairs on assignments, automating some forms of assessment, e.g. multiple choice, utilizing contingency planning technology to enable students to attend their courses without stress.

After the strike is over, may I ask student workers who participated to make up work that has been missed?

As long as the student worker is still holding an active position, you can ask them to make up missed work. They will need to work with their local Registrar’s Office to confirm locations for makeup sections, or they can take advantage of the remote teaching technologies to organize make up sections. Enrolled students should be encouraged to attend if at all possible.

Who can step in as a replacement Teaching Fellow, Teaching Assistant, or Course Assistant?

Any non-Harvard student and any other qualified individual may be considered for replacement teaching staff work. You can ask current non-Harvard affiliated instructional support staff in your department, as well as non-ladder faculty, if they would like to take on additional work at the rate currently assigned to the course. If you know that a TF, TA, or CA is continuing to work during the strike, then you may also offer that individual additional work to make up for the missing staff. You could also send a group email to all instructional staff in a course, offering them additional work during the duration of a strike.

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.