Maintenance Workers Vote on New Contract After Year-long Delay

After four months of contract talks, which were preceded by six months of negotiations about how to have the contract talks, Harvard's maintenance workers will vote Thursday on a new University contract.

"We have made our proposal," said William Murphy, senior engineer for the Department of Buildings and Grounds, and a member of the management's negotiating team.

"The university has presented us with an ultimatum,' said Robert Richardson, president of the maintenance workers association and a member of the workers' negotiating group. They represent more than 250 Harvard employees, including carpenters, plumbers, groundskeepers, electricians, truckdrivers and mechanics.

Neither management nor labor would comment specifically on the contract. "This is the union's own business and it might jeopardize the voting results for us to say anything right now," said John Butler, assistant director of Personnel and Harvard's chief negotiator. "But maybe the union would talk because they need the publicity. They often have a hard time getting their people to attend meetings," he added.

"I certainly wouldn't call it the ultimate in contracts," said Richardson. "It's still a good contract for the management. It had to be because we, the union, were in an inferior position all the time... But after the voting many things can be brought to the attention of the public that would be enlightening."

The negotiations extended over "15 or 16 meetings," according to Murphy. "After reaching a stalemate on several major issues, the union proposed we appeal to a federal mediator, and we agreed. This is where the final settlement was finally reached."

"Before the mediator came, there was no sincerity or sense of follow-through in the talks. We tried to get some integrity into it," said Richardson. "The mediator's position was the worst in the world," he added.