Harvard, Guards Make Progress In Labor Dispute

Sides agree to proceed without a mediator

Negotiations between the University and its security guards--so unproductive just last week that the parties considered appointing an outside mediator--are now apparently back on track and progressing smoothly.

Union representatives met on Tuesday with Kim A. Roberts '78, the University's director of labor relations.

What was supposed to be a quick introductory meeting turned into a two-hour discussion, according to Joe Wrinn, a University spokesperson.

"It went very well," said Robert V. Travers, vice president of the Harvard Security Guards' Union. "All I can tell you is that we're talking."

"We're still going over the details," he said. "A mediator is out."

The rank-and-file have been pressuring union President Steve McCone to conclude a deal. In particular, veteran guards have been pressing for a retirement package.

The guards' contract expired in 1995 and was extended for a year. They have been working without a contract since then.

As recently as last week, a breakthrough seemed so remote that both union officials and the University explored the possibility of bringing in a mediator to help settle the dispute.

But union officials said yesterday that the tenor of Tuesday's negotiations was positive enough that the bargaining could continue without outside help.

"I would say that they were cordial and they were productive," said Roberts, Harvard's negotiator.

Other administration officials agreed.

"Specific plans have been made that show a mutual interest in making progress," Wrinn said.

Officials interviewed declined to comment on the substance of the negotiations.

Only Travers offered a hint about what was discussed: "A buyout is still on the table."

Both Roberts and Travers declined to estimate how long the contract talks would last.

Guards upset with the slow pace of negotiations are criticizing both the union and the University.

Some guards faulted their own union for failing to communicate effectively withthem.

Others, like a guard at a river House who spokeon condition of anonymity, have placed the blamesolely on the University.

"They're dragging their ass," the guard said."It's been going on for years now. They got a new[negotiator], so it's just going to begin all overagain."

Roberts began representing the University innegotiations this summer.

Another guard, on patrol at a Harvard graduateschool earlier this week, said his union wouldhold fast to its proposals.

"Harvard is used to getting publicity," hesaid. "That's one thing we won't give them."

Asked about the effect that the long-standingcontract dispute has had on guard morale, he said:"It's just been...years."

Guards have also expressed concerns to theirunion heads about their future as employees atHarvard.

They note that several graduate schools anddepartments have outsourced their securityoperations to companies such as Cambridge-basedSSI, Inc.

Moreover, the guards have pointed out, no newguards have been hired since 1990.

The guards are being represented by Bostonattorney Randall E. Nash, who refused to commenton the timing and agenda of his next meeting withthe University.

"The thing is that sometimes you reach pointswhere things are better left unsaid," he said

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