FAS Cuts Janitor Hours

School officials say the moves save jobs, but union calls reductions 'drastic,' 'unnecessary'

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences implemented work hours reductions for over 100 janitors in July—a move that FAS officials say will help cut costs while avoiding layoffs, but union representatives say will devastate worker living standards.

According to an Aug. 10 announcement on the FAS Planning Web site, FAS cut 5 percent of its custodial costs by reducing overhead expenses, negotiating lower rates for cleaning supplies, eliminating non-emergency overtime, and reducing work hours for janitors. The site said that most custodians would not see their hours reduced, and that a typical schedule reduction for those affected would be from 40 hours per week to 35 hours per week, or from 20 hours per week to 17.5 hours per week.

Zak M. Gingo '98, director of facilities maintenance and operations for the FAS Office of Physical Resources, said he did not have the total custodial cost figures available. But he said the University made an effort to avoid layoffs in the budget cutting process, and estimated that the hours reductions helped save between 30 and 50 jobs.

But Daniel Becker, the Service Employees International Union Local 615 organizer for the janitors, said that the changes effectively represented a one-eighth pay cut for the workers while creating new health hazards. He also said that the custodial industry is heavily labor-intensive and only has "minimal" overhead expenses, and that any budget cutting translates almost directly into labor force reductions.

"When you're asked to do the same amount of work, physical labor, and you receive less time to do it, that's equivalent to a very drastic pay cut," said Becker, who added that he believed the changes represented an "insult" to the concept of a living wage for janitors. "We've seen workers who have sacrificed so much being asked to sacrifice more, when those implementing the decisions are not sacrificing themselves."

The FAS Web site said that low-priority cleaning tasks such as high dusting, floor buffing, and vacuuming of offices would occur less frequently, but that high-priority cleaning tasks such as trash removal and cleaning of public restrooms would continue at their current frequency.

According to Becker, the work hour reductions were not applicable to those janitors directly employed by Harvard, but affected all of the workers that had been subcontracted from outside cleaning companies—103 from Unicco, and 22 from Hurley of America. All of the janitors working at FAS are unionized under SEIU, Becker said, and all receive the same baseline wages.

The announcement of the hours reductions had noted that roughly 45 percent of the nearly 300 janitors working at FAS were subcontracted, but failed to indicate how the hours reductions were distributed among the workers. Gingo said that he was not knowledgeable about the "specifics [of the reductions] down to individual employees," but noted that Becker's numbers were "consistent" with his understanding that the changes primarily affected subcontracted workers.

Subcontracted janitors have been laid off at various sites throughout the University in recent months, drawing protests from union members, staff, and students. Harvard officials have defended the decisions by pointing to the projected 30 percent drop in the value of the University's endowment, and noting that compensation costs comprise roughly half of Harvard's operating budget.

Gingo also said that while he did not have any personal interactions with the union in arranging the hours reductions, it was his understanding that management staff from each vendor—Unicco, Hurley of America, and Harvard's Facility Maintenance Operations—discussed the changes with the union in early July.

But Becker said that the hours reduction scheme had been designed, finalized, and implemented by the University and vendors without consulting the union. He said that the first time the union had heard of the hours cuts was when distressed Unicco workers called the union after being notified of the changes at a mass meeting held roughly two weeks before the changes were to be implemented—a meeting which Becker said the union had not been invited to attend.

"These cuts were quite explicitly announced [by the vendor] directly to the workers without ever having consulted with the union about the 103 workers who would have their hours slashed," Becker said. He added that Hurley of America held a similar meeting for its workers roughly a week later, but invited union representatives to attend.

Gingo said that the cost savings from the janitorial service reductions were part of the $77 million in budget cuts announced by FAS earlier in the spring. While Gingo would not rule out the possibility of further changes in the future, he said that there have not been and currently are no discussions of further custodial cuts in FAS.

SEIU officials have said for months that the University has failed to provide the union with adequate and transparent communications throughout the budget cutting process.

"They say there's open communication, but it's like falling down the rabbit hole here," said Wayne M. Langley, director of higher education for SEIU Local 615. "Sometimes I can't even get a returned phone call, and we represent almost 1,000 workers."

Langley said that he continues to believe that hours reductions and layoffs are "unnecessary" and unjustified, and that the University has the money to maintain services at the current level.

"We still don't understand why they are doing this," said Langley. "Endowments are supposed to be a rainy day fund, and it's a typhoon. So you have to question this whole panic that's going on...I think that's the crux of it: if people were convinced that [Harvard's budgetary crisis] is as serious as Harvard's saying, we might have a different posture on it. But we have no evidence to indicate otherwise."

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.