The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers reached a tentative two-year contract agreement with the University on Wednesday morning, marking the first time in the union’s 22-year history that it has not settled upon a three-year agreement.
HUCTW and Harvard decided to draw up a two-year contract as a result of differing opinions on the University’s ability to increase wages and extend benefits in subsequent years. Both parties also disagreed on whether the University’s finances are improving and will continue to improve, according to HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger, who could not elaborate further on the specifics of the discrepancy in opinions.
"This way we’ll come back in a year and quarter and see what’s happening with the economy, with Harvard’s endowment," Jaeger said about the decision to draft a two-year contract, which will be effective July 1. “This is a good answer, and also the right answer for this time.”
Concluding the eighth round of contract negotiations with University management, the newest contract includes a $1,000 raise for all HUCTW members this year, and a 3.5 percent salary increase for the majority of union members—significantly less than the salary increases in the 4 to 4.5 percent range outlined in the previous contract.
The new contract also increases the size of the union’s membership by granting union eligibility to non-exempt jobs in salary grade 56, or Harvard employees who earn between $49,800 and $82,000 a year—a salary grade higher than was previously covered in the contract. The change will lead to "important new career development opportunities for current Union members," according to an e-mail from HUCTW leadership to union members.
In what seems to be a reactive measure to the slew of staff cuts that swept through the University during the budget crisis last year, the new contract features strong language that seeks to ensure that the Union and the University work together to manage layoffs. Though such a measure was already in place, Jaeger said he hopes to make sure that union-management collaboration happens "earlier and more meaningfully."
“The worst of any layoff experience for our members is almost certainly behind us,” said Jaeger, in reference to the layoffs of about 100 union members last year.
The new contract expresses a commitment on behalf of the union and the University to determine when it is appropriate to hire employees for “term jobs,” positions with a designated end date that can be extended by the employer. The issue has been a source of tension between union members and the University, since employees whose jobs end on the specified date after less than two years of employment do not receive unemployment benefits.
There will be no cuts in union member’s benefits, such as health care, tuition assistance, and retirement.
Before HUCTW members will vote to ratify or reject the contract on July 22, the union says it plans to issue a statement summarizing all of the negotiated changes in the settlement. Union meetings will take place in all sectors of the University so that members can ask questions and discuss the agreement, according to the e-mail from HUCTW leaders.
HUCTW ratified its first contract with Harvard in 1989, after a protracted struggle to gain recognition from the University. Between then and 2007, the union has achieved a 145% salary increase for workers, strengthened its work-security program, and worked to preserve full health benefits for part-time employees.
—Staff Writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.