Union Pens Letter Against Health Care Plan

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers released an open letter late Thursday afternoon complaining that Harvard’s recently released health care plans for non-union workers offer those employees a health care structure similar to one it already rejected for union workers.

HUCTW, which represents more than 4,600 of the University’s librarians, secretaries, and other non-faculty staff, responded in its letter to the “open enrollment materials” Harvard released just over a week ago, in which Harvard’s Human Resources department informed employees about their benefits plans.

While Thursday’s letter lauded what union leaders see as “only very slightly” increasing health care costs, it described the University’s changes for 2013 health care plans as an “unfortunate step backward” in the contract negotiations between HUCTW and the University, which have dragged on since the old contract’s scheduled expiration date of June 30.

The relationship between union members and the University is currently governed by the outdated contract, and negotiations remain deadlocked. Health care benefits, along with salary increases, have long been a major point of contention in contract talks.

Earlier in contract negotiations, HUCTW proposed a new health care structure, which the union said would shift some of the financial burden associated with health care off of lower-paid employees and onto higher-paid employees.

In an October open letter, Harvard Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann said that the union’s proposal for a new health care structure “did not meet our test for a fair and equitable agreement.”

Yet the union says that Harvard just offered a similarly structured plan to non-union workers.

Harvard Assistant Vice President for Communications Paul Andrew said that the University is indeed committed to pursuing a progressive benefits system. Harvard’s new plan, he argued, differs significantly from that proposed by HUCTW.

“The University did reject a proposal put forward by the union to reduce healthcare premiums for HUCTW members, shifting those costs onto other Harvard employees,” Andrew wrote. “Changes [in non-union open enrollment materials] are in line with our commitment to fairness for employees who are represented by the union and to employees across the University as whole.”

On the contrary, HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger said that the union’s proposal was cost-neutral for the University and would not have placed any more burden on non-HUCTW workers. The letter accused Harvard of pursuing an “aggressive strategy of shifting costs off of the University and onto employees.”

This letter, like other HUCTW communications throughout the elongated negotiations, stressed the union leaders’ belief that the University has rebounded from the recession enough to treat its employees more generously.

But Andrew said the plan offered to non-union workers reflects what Harvard can afford. “The benefits changes reflected in this year’s open enrollment packets are a direct result of the financial pressures facing the University that were detailed in the annual financial report,” Andrew said. Harvard’s annual Financial Report, which was released Friday morning, disclosed a budget deficit of $4.5 million for fiscal year 2012, a figure which represents just slightly more than .1 percent of the total annual revenues.

HUCTW’s letter also said that health care cost changes had not been described or explained in University communications.

“I’m really worried by what it’s supposed to signal that the University introduced these changes without any rationale,” Jaeger said.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

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