Harvard Will Not Intervene

While it is widely known that Harvard focuses tremendous energy on finding and attracting the best students and faculty in the world, few realize that Harvard puts the same care into labor relations. This is in recognition of the critical role that staff, from janitors to security guards to dining hall workers, play in the Harvard community. Recently, however, the University has been urged by some in the community who want Harvard to intervene in contract negotiations between outside security firm and its employees who work at Harvard. I am writing to explain why Harvard has declined to do so.

Last December, AlliedBarton Security Services (AlliedBarton), the company which employs the security guards working on the Harvard campus, voluntarily recognized the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as the exclusive bargaining representative for its employees working at Harvard. AlliedBarton and the SEIU recently began to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that will address the set of interconnected issues that define the relationship between an employer and its employees.

Harvard has no legal role in this process and has declined to inject itself or otherwise assume responsibility over the employment relationship.

Harvard contracts with a broad range of vendors for goods and services that permit the work of the University–education and research–to go forward. As a general matter, the University has neither the right nor the expertise to dictate the means by which our vendors organize their business. The situation of service employees working on our campus, however, raises a distinctive set of issues that was carefully considered by a committee of eleven faculty members, four students, three union representatives, and two administrators in 2001. The committee’s review resulted in a set of comprehensive recommendations requiring service vendors to pay wages and to provide benefits (including health insurance, retirement, and paid time off) that are at least comparable to those that the University pays its unionized employees in similar positions. These recommendations have since been fully implemented through the University’s Wage and Benefit Parity Policy.

This groundbreaking policy was reached after careful deliberation by the committee and broad community debate. It represents a sensitive balance of the University’s responsibility to people working on this campus and the consequences of attempting to control how outside vendors operate.

In our view, it properly defines and describes the limits of the University’s relationship with vendors and their employees. Indeed, the SEIU has cited the program—described in full at http://laborrelations.harvard.edu/olr/parity.shtml—as a model during its negotiations with contract custodial employees at other campuses.

As a vendor that provides services on our campus, AlliedBarton is fully subject to the Wage and Benefit Parity Policy. This requires the company to pay wages and benefits no less than those received by unionized Harvard employees working in comparable positions. Compliance is regularly examined by independent auditors.

AlliedBarton’s situation was most recently reviewed a year ago. The University, however, recognizes the importance of assuring ourselves and the members of the Harvard community that the commitments made in the Wage and Benefit Parity Policy are being fully met. We have therefore asked for an updated audit, which we expect to be completed in the coming weeks.

This progressive policy, of course, is not a substitute for the good faith negotiations that must occur in collective bargaining. It is ultimately for those with the most direct stake—the employer and its employees—to determine how best to arrange their relationship. In the case of AlliedBarton, the employees are represented by the SEIU, a highly effective advocate for workers nationwide. Their agreement must, in the end, represent a balance of multiple considerations that the parties themselves are best-positioned to resolve. Harvard should not, need not, and will not intervene in this process.

Harvard is committed to working closely and constructively with our vendors and the nine unions that represent 6,700 of our own employees to ensure that the high standards of the Harvard community are maintained. The University remains proud of the constructive partnership that we have built through open, good faith negotiations and dialogue, and looks forward to maintaining and strengthening these relationships well into the future.

Marilyn Hausammann is vice president for human resources of Harvard University.