Harvard Workers Criticize Union

Several of Harvard’s clerical and technical workers criticized their union representation as being too lax in protecting worker’s rights at a semiannual members’ meeting last night.

Approximately 25 of the over 3,500 members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) discussed topics ranging from the recent payroll office firings and alleged employee harassment to a possible war in Iraq, according to several union members who were present.

Members laid out two very different visions for HUCTW’s negotiations with the University, with some arguing that the union should be more aggressive in its dealings with the administration. Others, however, supported the body’s current approach—which dissenters called too weak.

In the days before the meeting, flyers were circulated among HUCTW members which said, “HUCTW needs a stronger approach!” The flyer urged union members to attend the meeting last night to “make your voice heard!”

In making a case that the union is not adequately representing its members, the flyer mentioned the firing of three University payroll workers earlier this month and the alleged harassment of a library employee by management.

Payoff Layoffs

Part of HUCTW members’ discontent surrounded an unconventional restructuring effort launched by the central administration to overhaul its payroll office.

The University reorganized the office earlier this month by laying off the office’s entire staff and subsequently rehiring most of its approximately two dozen employees.

Three were laid off and remain unemployed.

The reorganization was implemented to better synchronize the work of the payroll office with new payroll procedures—including the operation of the Peoplesoft system—said Marilyn D. Touborg, director of communications for Harvard’s Office of Human Resources.

Touborg said the University decided to fire and rehire many employees because their job descriptions had changed. Many of the new jobs are at a higher level than the old jobs, although Touborg acknowledged that some of the old lower-level employees were hired for those new jobs.

“It is generally the case when you are doing a reorganization of a department that most if not all of the jobs or duties change, especially if you’ve introduced new technology,” Touborg said. “In this case, the universe changed. Peoplesoft was a new tool, and around that the university had to develop new system.”

Touborg said that the new payroll office would employ more workers than before, and that the positions which had not been filled by old employees were being advertised both inside and outside the University.

The three laid-off staffers can remain on Harvard payroll for up to five months, she said, while seeking new employment under the provisions of the HUCTW labor contract. They will receive severance pay if they leave the University.

This kind of reorganization is not infrequent at Harvard, she said, citing recent reorganizations at the Kennedy School of Government, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study as similar restructuring moves.

Representatives for HUCTW could not be reached for comment.

In Other Matters

The other controversial topic discussed at last night’s meeting, members said, was the alleged harassment of HUCTW member and Harvard College Library (HCL) employee Randy Fenstermacher.

The flyer circulated in advance of the meeting accused Peter J. Martel of HCL Human Resources and Timothy J. Gray, manager of HCL Security Services, of “disciplining [Fenstermacher] merely for requesting Union representation.”

According to Touborg, Fenstermacher was not harassed for requesting representation but was instead denied representation at a performance review, which management is not required to allow.

“The performance review is appropriately a conversation between the supervisor and the employee...and there is no contractual or legal requirement that anyone else be present,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The employee...refused to appear for his performance review. At no point was this employee harassed.”

Martel declined to comment, and Gray could not be reached last night.

The flyer urged HUCTW to take a more aggressive stand in Fenstermacher’s defense and asked union members to e-mail Martel to protest Fenstermacher’s treatment.

Members at the meeting also discussed the union’s position on a possible war in Iraq. A straw poll—some union members said it was the first straw poll in almost 15 years—was taken on the union’s position.

The members present expressed by a wide margin their sense that the union should adopt a resolution opposing the war, but they lacked the quorum of approximately 300 bodies required to approve a resolution.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at marks@fas.harvard.edu.