National labor experts said yesterday that even if the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) loses the upcoming election, its 17-year-long effort will have a significant impact on the future of union campaigns in "pink-collar" jobs and private higher education.
Citing Harvard's reputation and the women's issues the union has brought to the forefront, the experts said the support staff election here is a landmark one for unions in private higher education and for pink-collar workers.
Because of the influx of women into the workforce, most pink-collar workers--employees in the service sector of the economy earning $14,000 to $30,000 a year--are women clerical workers. Of the 3700 support staff workers eligible to vote in the May 17 union certification election, 83 percent are women.
HUCTW has built its campaign around the issues labor experts cite as typical of the new pink-collar workplace: child care, pensions, long-term employees, pay equity and medical benefits.
"Harvard's is a very significant organizing drive, particularly for women," said Dale Melcher, a professor at UMass-Amherst's Labor Relations and Research Center.
"The rise of pink-collar occupations has put day care right at the top of the list of priorities, and this is thefirst major organizing drive that I know of whereday care has been a major issue and where male aswell as female workers have come out in support ofthe issue," Melcher said.
"It's really a landmark campaign and one thatclericals will look to as a good way to go," saidDenice Mitchell, who works in the Washington, D.C.office of the Service Employees InternationalUnion (SEIU) District 925, a union establishedspecifically to organize clerical workers. "Anorganization like Harvard gives the issuescredibility by its reputation."
Labor experts said that under the ReaganAdministration union-busting in the private sectorhas become easier, leading several major unions torefocus their efforts on private higher education.The Harvard union drive, following close on theheels of the Yale union victory and taking placeat one of the nation's most respected educationalinstitutions, is being watched carefully, theexperts said.
"The next big push for unionization will be inprivate higher education. A success like Harvardwill make more clerical workers and unions awarethat this kind of organizing is possible," saidJoan Berconi, a coordinator at the Center forLabor and Industrial Relations at the Universityof California-Berkeley.
"Any significant victory is a help inorganizing. This one would be particularlysymbolic because it is a well-known institution,there has been lots of publicity, and it's a bigunit," said Raymond Hogler, associate professor oflabor and industrial relations at Penn State.
A HUCTW victory is certain to influence otherunion campaigns, these expert said. And, even ifHUCTW fails to win a majority, its pink-collarorganizing strategy will still affect campaigns atother private universities, they said.
"If it is successful, it will make it easier toorganize similar workplaces and it also makes itclear that you can organize around an issue likechild care. Even if they lose, they have reallydone a great deal to emphasize these things,"Mclcher said.
"Harvard will provide a great case study interms of organizing, whether they win or lose,"said Ken Gagala, a professor at the LaborEducation Service at the University of Minnesota