Progress with Parity
In 2002, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies, convened after the sit-in, recommended the implementation of the current Wage and Benefit Parity Policy (WBPP). The parity policy says that the University must “strive to ensure” that contracted custodial, dining and security workers “receive total compensation comparable to that offered to corresponding University employees.”
But compensation is complicated, and grey areas arise when it comes to wage structure, overtime and vacation pay, benefit eligibility and even established rules for movement from part-time to full-time employment. Add to this mix the fact that Harvard, as a university, has also offered traditional benefits such as tuition assistance and free classes for certain groups of employees, benefits not easily transferable to outside employees.
So Harvard began to identify and improve weaknesses in its compensation packages for both groups of workers. The 2004 Annual Report on the Status of Service Employees written by the Office Of Human Resources cites progress in areas ranging from health care benefits to participation in employee training and literacy programs. The report notes a recent 4 percent increase in health insurance enrollment since 2003 by “eligible service employees”—a change attributed to “outreach and educational efforts” by the University, as well as the “successful institution of an additional union offered health plan for custodial workers.”
The report notes that 16 out of 22 outside contractors now provide health plans that have been deemed “comparable” to Harvard’s own. Those contractors who do not provide adequate benefits are required by the parity policy to offer additional wages instead.
Conversion from part to full time employment remains a huge issue for workers, since that change in status can trigger eligibility for benefits. Harvard has seen a 14 percent increase in its full-time custodial employees since 2002, moving toward the 60 percent full time employment negotiated by the SEIU, the custodians’ union. According to the Annual Report, the University is also “actively working” with its outside contractors to accomplish that same 60 percent rate for full time employment among outsourced employees.
Harvard has acted to put its intentions in writing. The Masters Service Contract, a template contract codified in 2002, sets out the requirements of the WBPP for all “covered vendors.” In addition, the Risk Management and Audit Services has conducted specific assessments of contractor compliance.
The recent 2004 audit noted both successes (as with paid time off) and continued disparity (as with pension plans and seniority).