The union trying to organize clerical and technical workers in the Medical Area today will take the first formal step to gain recognition as a bargaining unit, rekindling a struggle with Harvard which stretches back to 1974.
The union will ask the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for the right to hold a referendum, which, if successful, would grant an affiliate of the United Auto Workers (UAW) the power to represent Med Area clerical and technical workers in negotiations with the University.
The petition marks the second attempt by District 65 of the UAW to represent about 1000 Med Area employees. In 1977, employees voted, 436-346, to reject District 65's organizing efforts following a protracted legal battle which climaxed in a hostile campaign.
30 Per Cent
In order for the NLRB to approve District 65's request for an election, at least 30 per cent of the employees must submit cards to the Board saying they favor unionization. The NLRB must then determine that the group of employees has a distinct "community of interests."
Union officials declined this week to say how many employees have signed cards, but sources said the number is well above the 30-per-cent minimum.
In the union's first drive, the NLRB ruled that Med Area workers had distinct interests from other University clerical and technical personnel--a move that surprised Harvard officials.
Harvard lawyers argued that Med Area workers do not comprise an "appropriate" bargaining unit because their community of interests pertains to all of the University's clerical and technical employees.
This time around, union officials expect that the NLRB will confirm the Board's earlier decision and will permit an election in the near future. But Edward W. Powers, associate general counsel for labor relations, said yesterday, "There are still a lot of issues left unresolved from last time."
University officials said this week they oppose the formation of the union because it would create unequal distribution of benefit and limit mobility among clerical and technical workers in other parts of the University.
One University official questioned District 65's financial stability and motives for organizing in the Med Area. The source added that District 65's presence would "increase the possibility of strikes, and strikes are good neither for the institution nor the workers."
Daniel D. Cantor, director of personnel, said yesterday the University will not decide its position on the petition until lawyers have had a chance to study the union's proposal.
Recalling Harvard's efforts to stymie District 65's campaign three years ago, Canto said, "We didn't think District 65 was necessarily the best unit then, and the facts are basically the same now."
Cantor said the University, if forced, is prepared to wage another anti-union campaign. "It worked last time, and we hope it will work this time," he added.
Cantor listed several improvements in the status of workers in the Med Area since the last election, including "competitive" annual wage increases, broader holidays and tuition assistance, and free shuttle bus service to and from Cambridge.
But Leslie A. Sullivan, one of District 65's chief organizers and a veteran of the first campaign, disagreed, saying. "The University created an atmosphere of promise and expectation in its anti-union publicity. Then Harvard went away after we lost the election, until we started organizing again."
"People are wise to that now," she added.
Last spring, District 65 began to associate itself with job safety and security issues at the Med Area. This fall, union organizers launched an aggressive membership drive. Kristine Rondeau, a chief organizer for the United Auto Workers affiliate, said the union is "ecstatic" about the results.
At an open meeting called by District 65 yesterday, about 200 Med Area clerical and technical workers voted unanimously to ratify the union's petition.
Because the turnover rate of clerical and technical employees normally reaches about one-third, the union has faced problems in its attempts to maintain consistent support. But Sullivan said this week she thinks "a lot of people are sticking around because they feel we might win this election."
A decision from the NLRB is not expected until after Christmas