THE VOTE last June by workers in the Medical Area to reject the bid of District 65,. Distributive Workers of America, to represent them in their dealings with Harvard, is largely a tribute to the University's uncanny knack of resisting effective unionization of its employees. The union's defeat came at the end of a three-year fight in which Harvard used its considerable legal and financial resources to stall the election as long as possible, and then waged a last-minute publicity campaign to sway uncertain workers. While it is not at all clear that a majority of Med Area workers actually favored unionization under District 65, it is a certainty that the University's extensive resources played a key role in molding the workers' decision--and may play a similar role in the future.
Harvard's anti-union campaign was always above-board, as befits an institution with a penchant for splitting legal hairs. Yet this only shows further that present labor laws, as they now stand, award considerable advantages to wealthy employers such as Harvard who would rather argue in court for years than grant their employees the benefits of unionization. Harvard's ability to beat District 65, and other unions like it, stems largely from its ability to play the current statutes for all they are worth.
If Harvard's Medical Area workers are ever to have effective union representation--whether from District 65 or another organization--it seems clear that they will stand a much better chance if the federal labor relations statutes now on the books are changed. Congress is now beginning to consider a series of Carter administration proposals to amend the National Labor Relations Act, making it more difficult for employers such as Harvard to take unfair advantage of their wealth and size to prevent unionization. By speeding up the process by which workers may gain the right to hold organizing elections and by placing limits on the extent to which employers may use dubious legal tactics to avoid bargaining with certified unions, the bill would generally strengthen the hands of unions that have a solid base of support. These changes would not only benefit University workers, but millions of employees nationwide. Congress should pass this legislation, in as strong a form as possible, to make the University and other monolithic institutions like it live up to their obligations as employers.