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Nontenure track employees who teach or conduct research at Harvard University voted last week to unionize, creating a new bargaining unit representing thousands of workers. It’s Harvard’s first union representing these “contingent” faculty members, according to the new labor organization’s members.

“Prestige is not enough,” Shahinaz Geneid, a visiting teaching fellow at Harvard and graduate student at Northeastern University. Workers also need sufficient pay and rights protections, she said.

The National Labor Relations Board says the union will represent workers in multiple positions, including lecturers, researchers, engineers, postdoctoral research fellows and teaching assistants at Harvard Medical School, Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The voting, which took place Wednesday and Thursday, ended at 1,094 to 81, the NLRB announced Friday. The agency said there were 4,170 eligible voters, but the new union, called Harvard Academic Workers, said its count of the bargaining unit is 3,300.

Jason Newton, a Harvard spokesman, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that “we look forward to the opening of good faith negotiations with Harvard Academic Workers-United Auto Workers, beginning with the process of working to provide appropriate and accurate information on the bargaining unit.”

The union is affiliated with the UAW, a major player in the continued historic unionization of higher education workers. Erik Baker, a lecturer in Harvard’s history of science department and a member of the union’s organizing committee, said organizers chose to work with UAW due to its previous success unionizing Harvard’s graduate student workers and its victories on other campuses.

Geneid said contingent labor is particularly exploited within higher education, and the union gives workers “a chance to have their voices heard and to be able to fight for the pay that they need, the treatment that they need.”

Harvard Academic Workers launched its unionization campaign in February 2023. At the time, it raised issues including low pay, job insecurity and inadequate parental leave. Baker said members will now democratically decide the union’s bargaining demands—but he and other organizers would like to see, for one, an end to Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences' limits on the number of years nontenure track employees can work there.

Baker said these caps range from two to eight years, and that this forcing out of employees contributed—alongside the pandemic—to preventing the union from forming earlier. “From my perspective,” he said, “the time caps are fundamentally arbitrary and penalize experience.”