Here are my six arguments against the unionization of graduate students at Harvard.
- Graduate student union will leave us financially worse off. The union will cost you several hundreds of dollars every year but won’t be able to negotiate and win enough benefits to offset your loss. (Watch out for misleading claims about union dues and pay increase.) This is because the University is already financially constrained and because the union won’t be able to effectively use its only weapon, strike. If the weapon is used, it will likely cost you more than what the union can gain for you as a result.
- Graduate student union will disrupt our academic experience. There several ways the union will be and already has been disruptive to our academic experience. If the union forms, union organizers’ intrusive organizing activities at your offices, classrooms, dining halls, dorm rooms, libraries, apartments, and labs will continue. They will come back again and again whenever there is an election, a vote, a survey, a contract renewal, a protest, a strike, and so on. Many of them are paid UAW part-time organizers ($25 per hour and a minimum of 20 hours per week), which presents a clear conflict of interest. If the union goes on strike you will be encouraged to participate (to maximize damage against the University). If you do, you will not be allowed to make progress on your research or do work for classes you teach. You may not be paid and could lose your benefits while the union is on strike.
- Graduate student union will not provide more protection against abuse and discrimination. The union’s grievance procedure will not be materially different from what the current University procedure is as exemplified in many graduate student union contracts including the collective bargaining agreement at NYU. There appears to be no empirical evidence that shows the existence of a student union and increased reporting rate of abuse and discrimination such as sexual assaults. There are already existing procedures for resolving complaints regarding the workload and it would be difficult to use union’s grievance procedure in practice. Simply having a union won’t likely fix late pay problem.
- Graduate student union will make our institution less equitable. Union supporters claim that the student union will not seek a “one-size-fits-all” approach that would tend to help certain students at the expense of others. At the same time, they claim that the union can fix disparities across various programs in the University. In a financially constrained environment, these claims are incompatible. Compromises would be necessary in contrast to what union supporters claim.
- Graduate student union will make our institution less democratic. Union will diminish the voice of students in individual programs and departments by taking away their influence on administrative matters at a local level. Few individuals with strong views may dominate the negotiation with the University, resulting in a contract that reflects primarily the voice of those individuals rather than that of the whole graduate student body. The union movement has already had negative impacts on student organizations such as the GSAS Graduate Student Council whose purpose is to represent the diverse voices and viewpoints of students democratically.
- Graduate student union does not make a convincing case. Union supporters do not make a convincing case for unionization. Their arguments are inconsistent and incoherent. They are littered with misleading claims. Their views of the University as a powerful employer on one hand and students as workers that need union for protection on the other do not accord with reality. The alliance of the HGSU-UAW signifies the diminishing power and influence of unions rather than their strengths. Union is a limited tool that should be applied to where it is appropriate.