Despite the tentative agreement reached with Securitas on Thursday, contract negotiations are not over for the union representing campus security guards. This week, representatives will begin negotiations with the University regarding Tuition Assistance Program benefits, which the tentatively-approved contract stipulates Securitas will provide—if Harvard agrees to pay for it.
The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is a University-wide program which allows eligible employees and retirees an opportunity to take undergraduate or graduate courses for at most 25% of the cost—and sometimes for as little as $40. Currently, security guards are not eligible for the program because they are not direct employees of Harvard, but rather contractors working for Securitas.
Leaders within SEIU Local 615, the union that represents security workers and custodians on campus, said that it is unfair that security guards do not get the same benefits as University employees.
“We believe there should be one Harvard, not first and second class citizens,” said director of higher education for Local 615 Wayne M. Langley. “Our workers are essentially employed by Harvard. They should all have the same benefit packages.”
Langley said that union negotiators will bring up the issue of TAP benefits at contract negotiations for custodial workers this Thursday, adding that they would like TAP benefits for all contracted workers, not just security guards.
“It’s a convenient fiction that there are these other employers who have no connection to Harvard,” Langley said. “We say follow the money—it leads back to Harvard.”
While contractors do not enjoy access to the TAP program, they are able to participate in Harvard’s Bridge Program, a University-wide program which provides inexpensive or free access to preparatory courses that teach topics such as English as a second language.
But many security guards said the TAP program represents a chance to improve their job prospects in the future.
“Being able to take classes would make a difference to a lot of us,” said one security guard, who wished to remain anonymous in order to protect his relationship with his employer. “It means that we might be able to move past being just a guard one day.”
Another guard says that it feels like a sign of disrespect that the University provides TAP benefits to some workers and not others.
“We’re just as important as any of the other workers at Harvard,” said another security guard, who wished to remain anonymous in order to protect his relationship with his employer. “Why don’t we deserve what other workers get? It’s just not right.”
Still, Langley said that he is not going into negotiations expecting a battle with the University on this issue.
“We expect Harvard to provide it and until they tell us they’re not going to provide it, then we really don’t have a disagreement,” Langley said. “I’m hoping we will all see eye to eye.”
The University declined to comment for this article.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.