Tensions Rise Between MIT, City Council

Both sides were there.

Posters emblazoned with the solgan "The Future is Now" were taped to the back wall of they city council chamber.

Outside, members of the Carpenters' union passed out fliers with the headline "Just Say No."

Men and women in business suits sporting "The Future is Now " buttons filled the front rows, surrounded on three sides by carpenters in paint-splattered T-Shirts and jeans.

It was supposed to be routine meeting of the Ordinance Committee. On the agenda was whether to grant MIT's request that certain hearings and reports be waived in the university's application to build a tunnel to connect two buildings under a city street.

But Wednesday afternoon proved to be a showdown between town and grown in Cambridge, as the city councilors' and local union workers' festering dissatisfactions with MIT came to the fore.

The institute went on the defensive preemptively, trotting out professors, students and affiliates to testify to MIT's importance to the city's growth. And to the importance of the tunnel--which runs from its new Biology building to other research buildings--to the city.

The representatives cited the contributions made by the school's biology department to cambridge's growing biotech industry as an example of MIT's importance to the city's economic development.

"Biotech is the next wave of the future," said Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president of MIT for government and community relations.

The tunnel is essential to MIT's plans to stay on the cutting edge of industry, hence their buttons and signs, Suduiko said.

Almost all the city councillors supported the tunnel, yet for over three hours the debate continued, not so much over whether to grant the shortcut, but over a long list of MIT-Cambridge issues.

"What we want to do is look at the big picture with MIT before we make a decision on any individual item," City Councillor Jonathan S. Myers said in an interview yesterday.

The carpenters union, Local 40, was present to protest the institute's recent hiring of a contractor who used non-union workers on a memorial Drive building site at a time when 80 percent of the union's membership was currently unemployed.

Suduiko said that the move was simply a cost-conscious response to a weak economy, citing the fact the institute had to lay off 150 workers at one of their laboratories. Suduiko said the Memorial Drive job was an "isolated" deviation from the institute's usual policy of hiring union labor.

But union members at the meeting disagreed with Suduiko's logic. "If MIT can't afford to pay union wages, they can't afford to build," one union member said.