University Library Workers Protest Layoffs
Since Harvard University Library announced last week that its upcoming reorganization would include downsizing staff, workers have circulated several petitions against the layoffs and picketed on Wednesday outside of a regularly scheduled meeting for library staff members.
Roughly 20 people participated in Wednesday’s protest, which took place during a meeting that was meant to allow library workers to express their concerns, according to a University spokesperson.
“Today’s conversation provided an opportunity to address some misconceptions, and it was made clear that staff members are not being asked to reapply for their jobs,” the spokesperson said in an email, referring to a rumor that circulated among workers last week. “The remainder of the meeting focused on how Library staff can prepare to play a role in the new organization.”
Last Thursday, officials told library staff at three town hall meetings that the library’s planned restructuring may include voluntary and involuntary reductions in staff size. The library board met on Tuesday to consider a formal plan for the reorganization, but, despite requests, the University has not released details on whether any plan was approved. If the library board passed a proposal, it would be reviewed by University President Drew G. Faust in February.
Geoffrey “Geoff” Carens, a library employee and member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, said that the timetable for the impending decisions demands a stronger response in addition to the union’s negotiations.
“We may not have a ton of time,” Carens said. “The cuts are supposed to come in July. We want to strike while the iron is hot.”
Aryt Alasti, a security guard who is a member of Service Employees International Union, said the library workers’ union was not doing enough to fight potential layoffs.
While SEIU represents security guards and custodians, HUCTW represents clerical and technical workers, including library staff.
“Unfortunately, the HUCTW leadership does not support such actions as this [protest], historically and philosophically,” Alasti said. “They prefer to, from my standpoint, negotiate until failure, and that’s the end of that.”
Desiree Goodwin, a library assistant at the Frances Loeb Library in Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, has spearheaded the circulation of two petitions: one that urges general support for academic librarians and a second that demands an immediate firm stance by Bill Jaeger, the director of HUCTW, against layoffs. More than 120 people had signed the two petitions as of Wednesday evening.
Occupy Harvard members are currently drafting a third petition, targeting the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
Goodwin, who has been employed by the University for 16 years, said the news of potential downsizing was “dropped on us like a bombshell.”
Goodwin said that despite regular meetings before the transition plan was announced, neither union leadership nor library supervisors had advance warning of the potential downsizing.
“We were all invited to these discussions as if we were part of the process,” she said. “It’s not that we object to modernization, streamlining procedure. It’s the structure being imposed on us—and the pace.”
The University spokesperson said that Harvard will work with HUCTW, in compliance with the union’s contract. She declined to specify when such a meeting would take place.
In Goodwin’s view, the purpose of the layoffs is “maximizing Harvard’s profit margin.”
“This is not about creating the best library system in the country,” she said.
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