Letter to NLRB

Below is a letter addressed to John J. Walsh, Jr, Regional Director of National Labor Relations Board (Region 01, Boston). It was drafted by several students who voted against the unionization.

National Labor Relations Board (Region 01, Boston)
10 Causeway Street
6th Floor
Boston, MA 02222-1001

Email: Information.Officer@nlrb.gov and Elizabeth.Gemperline@nlrb.gov

February 8, 2017

Attn: John J. Walsh, Jr, Regional Director

Case No. 01-RC-186442

We the undersigned are Harvard graduate students who voted “No” to student unionization on November 16 and 17, 2016.

We understand that the NLRB is convening to hear objections from the Harvard Graduate Students Union–United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW), challenging the validity of the election on the basis that some eligible students who were omitted from the voter list (the “Excelsior List”) may have been prevented from participating in the election.

Although we do not agree with HGSU-UAW’s cause, we nevertheless join with them in supporting a careful examination into any circumstances that might have prevented a fair election. If there are compelling grounds to conclude that a significant number of eligible students were not informed of their eligibility and consequently failed to cast ballots and that those missing ballots could with reasonable probability have swayed the election, we are prepared to accept that the election should be overturned in the interest of fairness.

The quality and quantity of election communication prior to the vote, though, is surely relevant to the question of whether any students were unaware of their right to cast a vote. As students who were exposed to this communication, we believe our perspective may be of value in making this determination. In our view, for the reasons outlined below, eligible students who were on campus in November 2016 were well informed about the fact of the election and of their ability to vote and to cast a “challenge vote.” The high voter turnout (≥ 77%) and the large number of challenge votes also affirms the view that students on campus were informed and resolved to express their democratic voice—regardless of whether they were formally notified of their eligibility.

To assist the NLRB, we summarize below the various communications of which we are aware that were directed at Harvard Graduate Students in the fortnight leading up to the election:

(a)   Facebook groups: Two prominent Facebook groups were circulating amongst the student body: “Harvard Graduate Students Union – UAW” (currently with 1,890 Likes) and “Against HGSU-UAW” (currently with 383 Likes). Numerous posts and conversations were “shared” and “liked” and discussed on these walls and on individual students’ walls, which made it practically impossible for any Harvard student on Facebook not to be aware of the unionization election. Students on both sides encouraged their peers to cast challenge votes for their position even if they were not on the voter list.

(b)   Facebook advertisements: HGSU-UAW paid for targeted, sponsored advertising which appeared on many of our Facebook walls.

(c)   Websites: The following websites, all of which advised of the voting process, were available and circulated amongst the student body:

  1. Office of the Provost: http://provost.harvard.edu/studentvote
  2. HGSU-UAW: http://harvardgradunion.org/
  3. Against HGSU-UAW: https://criticalgsu.wordpress.com
  4. Graduate Student Unions: A “Factual” Approach: https://factsgsu.wordpress.com/

(d)   News articles: The following articles appeared in Harvard publications which are widely read on campus:

  1. Harvard Crimson articles: “Eligible Students to Vote on Unionization this Month” (Nov. 2, 2016), “FAS Dean Calls Upcoming Unionization Election ‘Fork in the Road’” (Nov. 2, 2016), “Grad Union Organizers, University Administrators Answer Questions about Unionization” (Nov. 3, 2016), “With Historic Union Election Looming, All Eyes on Harvard” (Nov. 7, 2016), “‘Much is at Stake’ in Union Election, Provost Writes” (Nov. 8, 2016), “Dues Become Topic of Discussion Ahead of Student Union Vote” (Nov. 10, 2016), “Students Opposing Unionization Escalate Activity As Vote Nears” (Nov. 14, 2016), “Supporters and Opponents of Unionization Ramp Up Efforts as Vote Approaches” (Nov. 16, 2016), “Students Head to Voting Booths for First Day of Historic Student Union Election” (Nov. 16, 2016), “Deans Email Students Before Historic Union Vote” (Nov. 16, 2016).
  2. Harvard Crimson editorials/opinions: Andrew S. Conning, “Why I Believe We Should Not Form a ‘Union’” (Nov. 14, 2016), The Crimson Editorial Board, “An Imperfect Union” (Nov. 15, 2016), Andrea Kriz, “Vote ‘No’ to the Harvard Graduate Student Union, ‘Yes’ to More Discussion” (Nov. 15, 2016), Abhinav Reddy et al., “Now More Than Ever” (Nov. 16, 2016).
  3. Harvard Law Record: Henry Druschel et al., “HLS Student Workers: Vote Yes to Unionization” (Nov 2, 2016), “Students Gear Up For Union Vote, Though Not All Are Supportive” (Nov 10, 2016).
  4. Harvard Gazette: “Student election upcoming” (Nov 3, 2016).

(e) Community “town hall” meetings: Various “town hall” meetings and information sessions were held across campus by student groups, HGSU-UAW representatives, or HGSU-UAW and the Harvard administration together, including:

  1. Law School Town Hall on November 2
  2. Undergraduate Info Session on November 3
  3. Social Sciences Info Session on November 7
  4. Kennedy School and Graduate School of Education Joint Info Session on November 8
  5. Humanities Info Session on November 9
  6. DMS Longwood Info Session on November 10
  7. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Town Hall on November 10
  8. Psychology Department Town Hall on November 15

(f) Posters: Hundreds of color posters were prominently displayed across campus by students on both sides—on noticeboards, in hallways, on desks, in classrooms, etc. Some of HGSU-UAW’s posters included such statements as: “If your name is not on the list, vote YES anyway and your ballot’s eligibility will be determined later.”

(g)   Physical mail: The University physically posted letters to students on the Excelsior List advising when and how to vote.

(h)   In-person approaches: HGSU-UAW coordinated a campus-wide campaign of person-to-person advocacy to promote unionization. Both paid HGSU-UAW workers and volunteer student supporters approached Harvard students daily across campus in lunchrooms and labs to discuss and advise on the unionization vote.

(i) Phone calls: HGSU-UAW coordinated a phone-call drive in the week leading up to the election. Volunteers called students to encourage them to vote “Yes.”

(j) Personal emails: Students on both sides directly emailed their fellow students in their class or school to advocate about the election.

(k) Election stickers: HGSU-UAW supporters wore stickers promoting “Union #VoteYes” around campus. On the election days, HGSU-UAW supporters wore and handed out “I voted Yes” stickers to students.

(l) Conversations: The conversational “buzz” on campus regularly involved discussions amongst students on the upcoming unionization vote.

(m) Emails: Finally, numerous emails were sent to Harvard students—many to a wider audience than the formal Excelsior List, and many explicitly referencing the challenge vote procedure—encouraging students to vote on November 16 and 17, including:

  1. To Excelsior List students from HGSU-UAW (x5), Paul Curran (Director, Labor and Employee Relations) (x2) and studentvote@harvard.edu (x2).
  2. To Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) students from GSAS Student Affairs (x1), Harvard Graduate Student Council (x1), Garth McCavana (Dean for Student Affairs, GSAS) (x2), Michael D. Smith (Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) (x1) and Xiao-Li Meng (Dean of GSAS) (x1). In particular, Garth McCavana’s emails to all GSAS students directly forwarded emails that Paul Curran had sent to Excelsior List students (and which explained the challenge ballot procedure).
  3. To School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) students from Harvard Graduate Student Council Representatives for SEAS (x3), SEAS Graduate Council (x1) and John Girash (Director of Graduate Academic Programs, SEAS) (x2)
  4. To Harvard Law School students from Harvard Law School Student Government.
  5. To Harvard Graduate Students from Graduate Students Against HGSU-UAW
  6. To the entire Harvard Community from the Provost’s Office.

We believe that the above points are accurate and can be verified by our fellow students representing HGSU-UAW at the upcoming hearing, if necessary.

Thanks in large part to the highly coordinated efforts of students supporting HGSU-UAW, it is in our view unlikely that any graduate students were not informed about the election or their ability to cast a challenge vote. If any eligible students did not vote, the most likely explanation is that they simply chose not to.

We do not wish to have another disruptive and time-consuming election at this time. We wish to get on with our studies.

In the interest of openness, we have copied this letter to HGSU-UAW (hgsu.general@gmail.com) and to Harvard University (studentvote@harvard.edu).

Non-HGSU-UAW students have had no representation before the NLRB. We have no formal affiliation in this matter with the University or even with each other, and no funding. We came together via Facebook and email to express our views, and we hope that the NLRB will take them into account.

Sincerely yours,

Christie Chiu, Graduate Student in the Physics Department
Matheus C. Fernandes, Graduate Student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
John Froberg, Graduate Student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program
Sager Gosai, Graduate Student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program
Taylor W. Killian, Graduate Student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Andrea Kriz, Graduate Student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program
Jae Hyeon Lee, Graduate Student in the Physics Department
Steven Poynter, Graduate Student in the Chemical Biology Program
Lane Raffaldini Rubin, Student in the Graduate School of Design
Amaro Taylor-Weiner, Graduate Student in the Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics Program
Kevin Tian, Graduate Student in Applied Physics/SEAS
Momchil Tomov, Graduate Student in the Program in Neuroscience
Elizabeth Petrik West, Graduate Student in the Physics Department
Liujun Zou, Graduate Student in the Physics Department