Harvard University’s graduate student union (HGSU-UAW) has announced that they will hold a strike authorization vote beginning October 15. A two-thirds vote of the membership will allow the negotiating committee to call a strike. I thought it might be useful to reiterate two very basic points in the lead-up to the authorization vote and possible strike.
First, the fact that the Trump NLRB has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which could eventually deprive graduate student TAs and RAs of their status as employees, has no bearing on the legal status of the current strike vote or the potential strike. Under current law, the graduate students in the union are employees and are fully protected by federal labor law.
Second, employees – including the students in HGSU-UAW – enjoy a federally protected right to strike. The strike vote and the strike it could authorize are “concerted activities for . . . mutual aid or protection,” which, under federal labor law, are legally insulated from retaliatory action. This means that no student can legally be subject to retaliation for participating in the strike vote, for voting to authorize a strike, or for striking – as the University’s own guidance on the question makes clear. Importantly, labor law protects against even subtle forms of retaliation – for example, changes in work assignments or less favorable references.
Everyone is entitled to their view on the merits of such a strike. But, as a legal matter, no adverse action may be taken against students who exercise their right to authorize or participate in it.