University officials said this week that four Latino employees won’t be laid off by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, following an effort by students and activists to save the employees’ jobs.
The employees said they were told on Oct. 3 they would lose their posts because some of their animal cage-washing duties could be completed by machines.
But the four employees charged that they were actually to be fired because of their race and ethnicity.
In recent weeks, students have rallied around them, forming a group to protest alleged racial discrimination against Harvard employees.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Robert Mitchell said Monday afternoon that the employees would not be laid off. “A committee of labor and management representatives are looking into this entire layoff process,” he said.
He said although he could not comment on the employees’ charges, the University takes allegations of discrimination and racism “very seriously.”
“FAS Human Resources will vigorously investigate any complaints or allegations of discrimination it receives, and will take appropriate actions,” he wrote in an e-mail.
It’s possible, though, that the employees’ positions might not be secure in the long run.
In an e-mail addressed to the “faculty and staff” of the department, Deborah R. Clain, director of administration and finance at the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, said the layoffs had been rescinded. But, she added, “this does not mean that there will be no layoffs due to the robotics automation of the cage washing function, but rather that an eventual decision about this will be made after further review and consideration.”
The e-mail was forwarded to The Crimson by Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Clain referred questions to Mitchell.
Jaime Moreno, an employee in the group that said it had been slated for layoffs, said that he learned he would keep his job in a meeting with FAS officials yesterday afternoon.
“Thanks to the help of union representatives Bill Jaeger and Randi Ellingboe, of the CREW [Coalition for Respect and Equality at Work] and the student organizations, we’re heading in a good direction, but the struggle isn’t over yet,” Moreno said.
Jaeger said he had talked to administrators about the charges of racial discrimination.
“We raised concerns about the issue of whether it’s necessary for any staff to be laid off in this new environment with the new machinery, about how to determine who should be laid off, and about the concerns of racial bias or hateful behavior in the workplace,” he said.
“We’re going to have some of the [Office of Animal Resources] workers themselves involved in figuring out the answers to these hard questions,” he said.
One member of the Harvard CREW—a group of students and workers formed three days ago to support Moreno and the other employees—said the decision to rescind the lay-offs was “great news” but that it wasn’t enough.
“There needs to be an institutionalized accountability, some sort of campus-wide grievance process as part of a larger of code of conduct that embodies the values of equality and respect,” said the member, Adaner Usmani ’08. “We don’t know what would have happened in this case had Jaime, Ruben [Portillo], and the others not had the courage to speak up.”