Ongoing Contract Negotiations To Bring In Mediator

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical workers, which represents more than 4,600 of the University’s non-faculty staff, released an open letter last week explaining the union’s position on the most contentious topics in its ongoing contract negotiations with the University.

The letter, signed by the union’s executive board and organizing staff, comes two and a half weeks after negotiators failed to reach an agreement by July 1, when a new contract was supposed to go into effect. Although it was meant to expire at June’s end, the old contract continues to govern the relationship between HUCTW members and the University.

According to University spokesperson Kevin Galvin, negotiations will now move forward with the help of a mediator. In an emailed statement, Galvin called mediation a “positive step in the negotiations” and wrote that the University is optimistic about creating a new contract that will be beneficial for both HUCTW members and Harvard.

“We’re frustrated, but we’re not panicked,” HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger said. He said he believes mediation, which has played a role in previous HUCTW negotiations, could aid the ongoing talks.

“We’ve relied pretty heavily and regularly on that kind of help in the past,” he said.

HUCTW’s open letter focused on three areas of the negotiations in which, according to union leadership, the University has mounted “significant resistance”: salary increases, health benefits, and inclusion of workers in the bargaining unit.

According to the letter, University negotiators have responded to talk of raises with “cries of extreme caution” that reveal a disagreement between the union and the University over the extent to which Harvard has recovered from the recession of the late 2000’s.

As evidence of Harvard’s financial health, the union’s letter pointed to the University’s House renewal project, projected to cost $1 billion or more, that started construction this spring and to Harvard’s recent announcement that it would resume construction on the long-halted, expensive science complex in Allston.

“In the same way our University’s leaders clearly believe it is critical to invest in our buildings and programs, the institution needs to understand the staff as critically important contributors to Harvard’s greatness, and return to significant investment in salary growth for HUCTW members,” the letter said.

In response, Galvin wrote that the University is committed to offering “competitive wages.” He said that wages for HUCTW members have risen noticeably during the last three years.

He added, “The University has attempted to balance prudent financial planning, which allows the University to carry on its mission of research and education, with the need to arrive at a fair and equitable wage increase.”

Jaeger, on the other hand, said that recent raises have been much smaller than raises of the past.  He said that while he understands that the whole University, including its workers, had to make sacrifices during the recession, salaries need to match the “growth mode” that Harvard is returning to.

“Our union wants very much to be reminding the University that we need to share in that growth,” Jaeger said. “It’s a very good strategic move to return to investing in the staff.”

The letter also leveled charges of “confusion and inconsistency across the University” regarding which workers are considered exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act—generally white-collar workers whose exemption makes them ineligible for overtime pay and for union membership, the letter said.

“Some hundreds of jobs are questionably classified as exempt, and staff members working in those positions are potentially being denied the benefits of inclusion in HUCTW,” the union leaders wrote in the letter.

Though the letter said that the union does not demand that this “complex issue” be resolved immediately, it warned that the University risks breaking federal law by classifying workers incorrectly.

Galvin wrote that the University is taking steps to be sure it is in compliance with the law.

Though Jaeger said that the union has not planned any “specific or dramatic action” to protest the lingering negotiations, he said that the letter’s purpose is to extend discussion about the contract deal to the broader University community.

“This is a community that cares a lot about ideas and a lot about fairness,” he said.

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

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