Harvard Club of Boston Faces Complaint

Rebecca J. Margolies

The Harvard Club of Boston, an alumni organization independent from the University, recently came under fire for its behavior during contract discussions with its workers.

On Oct. 3, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the Club for negotiating “in bad faith” with its service staff—including cooks, cleaners and servers.

The complaint serves as a warning to the Harvard Club, and a failure on their part to amend their bargaining strategies could lead to a national law suit and steep fine, according to Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE! Local 26.

On Wednesday, a student division of the Occupy Boston movement protested in front of the alumni organization’s downtown clubhouse about its poor labor practices.

Lang, president of the union which represents the Harvard Club’s workers as well as Harvard’s dining hall workers, said that the complaint from the National Labor Relations Board and the Occupy demonstration were a result of the Club’s failure to provide basic rights to their workers.

Lang said that the Club and the union had been negotiating their contract since the summer, but the Club’s management refused to negotiate the basic tenets of the contract, including benefits and hourly wages.

According to Lang, the Club’s management proposed no wage increases for six years as well as an expensive health care plan and the elimination of pension plans for new workers.

“They are making proposals that ensure that workers at the Harvard Club will be driven to live a life of poverty,” Lang said.

Karen A. Narefsky ’11, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement and one of the student demonstrators in the Occupy movement, said that the negotiations were “appalling.”

“The workers, they’re not trying to be unreasonable. They’re just trying to make enough money to see their families,” said Narefsky, who was present at several of the bargaining sessions between the Club and the union.

Narefsky added that that the negotiations were “embarrassing.”

“It’s not something I want to be associated with the name of Harvard,” she said.

The demonstration by students as part of the Occupy Boston movement hinted at greater class tensions present in the negotiations, according to Lang.

“The membership [of the Harvard Club] is the elite of Boston—the rich, the famous, the powerful,” Lang said. “They go to the Harvard Club to wine and dine and relax and be waited on and taken care of. The folks who do that [service] work are working class new immigrants to this country.”

Students echoed the idea of a class struggle present in the negotiations.

“The Harvard elite are having these fancy meals and wonderful events, and meanwhile the workers are really suffering,” said SLAM member William P. Whitham ’14. “It’s disturbing that this is a club that I could potentially join.”

Narefsky said that even with the added pressure from the National Labor Relations Board, it seems little change has occurred in the Club’s negotiation strategy.

“I had hoped the complaint would make the negotiations go more smoothly,” Narefsky said, “but ... [the Club] continues to bargain aggressively, taking proposals off the table which they have previously offered, and they haven’t stopped offering unacceptable proposals. I think there’s going to have to be a lot of public pressure.”

The Harvard Club of Boston declined to comment.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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