Harvard grad student workers go on strike, seeking $25 an hour minimum wage, other demands


Graduate student workers at Harvard University picket at Harvard Yard Tuesday as they go on strike seeking better pay, health care coverage and protections.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. —  Slogging through snow showers and slush, hundreds of Harvard University graduate student workers picketed Tuesday at Harvard Yard, as thousands went on strike seeking higher pay and other demands.

It marked the first strike of graduate students on the Ivy League campus since 1973, when teaching fellows and  protested the university’s financial aid program. Dining hall workers staged a one-month walk-out in 2016.

The strike threatened some of the university’s educational operations before final exams. The school’s more than 4,000 graduate student employees include teacher assistants, teaching fellows, tutors and researchers at Harvard’s many labs and academic departments.

“What’s up? Time’s up!” they chanted, circling the office of Harvard President Lawrence Bacow as they marched the perimeter of Harvard Yard, some holding signs and megaphones.

Leaders of the union representing the graduate student workers, which formed in April 2018 as part of United Automobile Workers, said the school hasn’t agreed to a contract that ensures “basic rights and protections.” Tuesday was the union’s deadline before a vowed indefinite strike.

Union members want a collective bargaining agreement with several guarantees: a $25 minimum wage for hourly workers; expanded health care benefits including mental health coverage; and stronger protections against sexual harassment and discrimination with a new arbitration process for complaints. Talks with Harvard officials, which included 28 bargaining sessions, went on for more than a year.

“The university has not responded to any of our demands around our core issues,” said Ege Yumusak, 26, a third-year graduate student and teaching assistant in the philosophy department who sits on the union’s bargaining committee. “This is why we are striking today after trying many other actions.”

The strike follows employee work stoppages at other college and universities this year. They include service workers at the University of California and nurses at the University of Chicago. The threat of a strike by employees of Oregon’s seven public universities was averted in September.

Harvard said negotiations are “active and ongoing.” The two sides, which have agreed on 12 points, met Monday and exchanged additional proposals but left without a contract. It’s unclear how many of the 4,000 graduate student workers walked out to join the strike, however 2,425 voted to do so six weeks ago.

Jason Newton, a spokesman for Harvard, said the university remains engaged in negotiations and continues to feel a strike is “unwarranted.” He said the school will take steps to ensure “as little disruption as possible” as students prepare for exams in the final weeks of the fall semester.

“Student workers have an vital role in fulfilling Harvard’s teaching and research mission, and with that in mind, the University is committed to addressing concerns that have been raised throughout this process,” he said. “A strike will neither clarify our respective positions nor will it resolve areas of disagreement.”