Harvard's Non-Tenured Academic Workers Form Union To Improve Pay, Job Security, and Parental Rights


In a historic move, nontenure track employees at Harvard University have voted to unionize, marking a significant milestone in the university's labor history. This newly formed collective bargaining unit represents a diverse group of workers, including lecturers, researchers, engineers, postdoctoral research fellows, and teaching assistants.

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Daderot)

Representation and Voting Results

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has confirmed the scope of the union, which extends across various departments and schools within Harvard, including the Harvard Medical School, Harvard Divinity School, and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Following a two-day voting period, the outcome was resoundingly in favor of unionization, with 1,094 votes in support and 81 opposed. While the NLRB reported a total of 4,170 eligible voters, the Harvard Academic Workers union asserts that its count of the bargaining unit stands at approximately 3,300.

Jason Newton, a spokesperson for Harvard, expressed the institution's commitment to engaging in productive negotiations with Harvard Academic Workers-United Auto Workers (UAW), emphasizing the importance of transparency and accuracy in the negotiation process.

READ ALSO: NYU's Instructors Elect Union, Forming the Largest Non-Tenure Faculty Union in Private Higher Education

Union Affiliation and Goals

The newly formed union has forged an affiliation with the United Auto Workers (UAW), a renowned labor union with a strong track record in organizing workers across various industries, including higher education. Erik Baker, a lecturer at Harvard and member of the union's organizing committee, highlighted the strategic decision to partner with UAW, citing its successful efforts in unionizing graduate student workers at Harvard and other leading academic institutions.

Shahinaz Geneid, a visiting teaching fellow at Harvard, underscored the precarious nature of contingent labor in the academic sector and stressed the pivotal role of the union in advocating for fair compensation, job security, and rights protections. The unionization campaign, initiated in February 2023, brought to light systemic issues such as low wages, job insecurity, and inadequate parental leave policies. As the union moves forward, its members will democratically determine the bargaining priorities, with a focus on addressing structural barriers to professional advancement and stability, such as the time caps imposed by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences on nontenure track employees.

Baker acknowledged the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and institutional policies, which hindered earlier unionization efforts. He emphasized the need for policy reforms that promote equity and inclusivity within the university's workforce, ensuring that all employees receive fair treatment and opportunities for career advancement.

Looking Ahead

In summary, the successful unionization of nontenure track workers at Harvard reflects a broader trend of collective action among academic laborers seeking to assert their rights and improve working conditions. As negotiations commence, stakeholders anticipate robust discussions on key issues affecting contingent faculty members and the broader academic community, with the goal of fostering a more equitable and inclusive university environment. The unionization effort at Harvard serves as a testament to the power of solidarity and collective bargaining in addressing longstanding challenges within higher education labor markets.

RELATED ARTICLE: Boston University Graduate Student Workers Strike For Better Pay, Improved Healthcare, and Childcare Subsidies

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