Many sectors of Harvard employees have long enjoyed the benefits of unionization. The University’s security guards, however, have been without a union since 2004, when Harvard finalized the outsourcing of their jobs to AlliedBarton, a contractor of security services. AlliedBarton had previously prohibited its Harvard employees from unionizing, but in the face of protests and pressure from workers and labor advocates, the firm reversed its stance in November, granting the guards permission to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The deal was cemented last month when a majority of the guards voted in favor of unionization. We applaud this turn of events and believe unionization will provide Harvard’s security guards with long overdue benefits and protections.
The University’s security guards, like its other wage-earners, deserve a union in order to articulate labor grievances and to benefit from the power of collective bargaining. Salaries for the non-unionized guards have lagged behind those of unionized Harvard workers in recent years. In addition, some workers have complained of inadequate health-care benefits and a deficient grievance process. A new contract negotiated by SEIU on behalf of the guards will likely augment their paltry $11-per-hour salary and provide more comprehensive benefits.
The unionization also marks a major victory for student activism, which was instrumental in securing this success. The Student Labor Action Movement made the guards’ unionization a top priority this year, and the campaign garnered support from other students and community members. Several protests outside the Holyoke Center helped raise awareness of the issue and provide impetus for change. While student labor advocacy is sometimes characterized as ineffective, that was certainly not the case in this instance.
The unionization of Harvard’s security guards has the potential for meaningful improvement in their quality of life. We hope that this development marks the continuation of increasingly progressive policies toward University employees.