When the Union trying to enlist clerical and technical workers in the Medical Area lost its first bout with Harvard in June 1977, organizers vowed to return within a year.
District 65 did return, but not until last December. Although the union had the benefit of experience, a new affiliation with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and a string of successes at other schools, yesterday's results leave organizers as empty-handed as they were seven years ago, when they first began seeking support in the Med Area.
For a union which has the motto "We can't eat prestige." District 65 staked a lot on prestige in this campaign. Officials hoped the association with the UAW would dispel the doubts held last time around about the union's financial stability and its negotiating record.
University lawyers decided to forego lengthy legal challenges and agree to an election campaign when District 65 filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Harvard officials chose this route for two reasons. First, they figured that, over the course of three months, they could convince most of the Med Area secretaries and technicians to vote against the union. Administrators profited from the successful anti-union campaign waged in 1977.
Second, although the anti-union campaign required intensive effort on the part of a few personnel officials--Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, put in endless hours as the administrator responsible for Harvard's strategy--it would prove far less costly than paying outside firms for a few years of legal battles.
Had the University failed to win over a majority, it could still have simply refused to recognize the union. This would have forced District 65 to take Harvard to court, where innumerable technical issues would have been hashed out.
But during the course of the campaign, the University said it would bargain in good faith if the union prevailed, causing union organizers to bubble over with enthusiasm when faced with the prospect of victory in yesterday's referendum.
This morning, District 65 organizers will wake up to the sobering fact that no representation election at Harvard is a sure bet. It is hard to underestimate the importance University attorneys placed on the election. Despite the energy necessary for a campaign of such intensity. Harvard fought tooth and nail to prevent District 65 from gaining a foothold and fragmenting University bargaining units.
It is unlikely that the charges that District 65 will file tomorrow with the NLRB will bear fruit. Harvard usually manages to stick within the guidelines of convoluted NLRB statutes.
And while yesterday's election results may underline Harvard's skill at conducting anti-union campaigns, it may also indicate that Med Area workers simply do not want to be represented by District 65--which would be a difficult pill for union organizers to swallow. After seven years, their struggle may be over, but with a bitter conclusion