Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren demanded in a letter Tuesday that Harvard University let graduate students unionize despite opposition from the college.
Graduate students at a number of Ivy League universities have fought to unionize. The universities, however, warn such unionization would undermine the relationship students have with their professors by making them more akin to workers. Warren, alongside a few other progressive lawmakers, demanded in a letter to Harvard President Drew Faustthat that the university end its opposition.
“The work of Harvard graduate student research and teaching assistants help to make Harvard a world leader academically,” the letter stated. “They are part of what makes Harvard an important economic engine in Cambridge and Greater Boston. Respecting the wishes of these students to form a collective bargaining organization will help these students continue this important work.”
Warren previously was a professor at Harvard Law School and has been a big advocate for union rights. The United Auto Workers has been at the forefront of the unionizing drive. This union has pushed federal officials to reverse a 2004 case involving Brown University, which prevented graduate students from forming unions with collective bargaining rights.
“We believe that the relationship between graduate students and a university is fundamentally about education, not employment,” Harvard spokesman Anna Cowenhoven told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Our graduate students are engaged, valued, and supported as a critical part of the learning, teaching, and research that happens at Harvard.”
Cowenhoven said the university is encouraging an open debate on the matter. Graduate students could technically join a union, but since they’re not employees, they are not afforded the right to collectively bargain. A collective bargaining agreement is a special labor contract that grants unions monopoly rights over a workplace by winning a majority vote.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Cornell and a handful of other elite schools came together in March, issuing a legal brief in opposition to the union challenge. Graduate students often perform a multitude of paid activities that could be considered work, like student teaching. They often get paid for these activities, though they’re not technically considering workers.
Student athletes forming unions has also been a point of debate, but both universities and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been hesitant to support the effort.
Warren did not respond to a request for comment by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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