Mediators Aim to Advance Contract Negotiations

Three experienced mediators will take part in contract negotiations between Harvard and its clerical and technical workers beginning this week, according to a joint statement released by the two sides Thursday.

The mediators—Lawrence F. Katz, an economics professor at Harvard; Robert B. McKersie, a professor emeritus at MIT’s Sloan School of Management; and Arnold M. Zack, a prominent arbitrator who has helped several U.S. presidents resolve labor disputes in the public sector—will attempt to help the University and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers reach an agreement that has eluded them since talks began in April of last year.

Contract negotiations have been far from straightforward, grappling with contentious topics including health care plans, salary increases, and, by extension, the financial health of the University.

“While there has been a great deal of honest exchange, and some progress has been made, both sides have expressed the hope that mediation will help the parties constructively address differences over the salary increase program and health care issues,” read the statement.

The contract that currently governs the relationship between Harvard and HUCTW was originally set to expire on June 30, 2012 but has remained in effect due to a failure to ratify a new agreement by the July 1 deadline. HUCTW members include thousands of Harvard’s librarians, secretaries, lab technicians, and other non-faculty staff.

HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger said he thinks the introduction of Katz, McKersie, and Zack into the negotiations is an encouraging development.

“This is an impressive group of mediators, deeply trusted on both sides," Jaeger said. "So it’s a positive step.”

HUCTW and Harvard have used arbitrators to help negotiate previous contracts throughout the union’s 25-year history. In the current talks, negotiators began using a mediator late last summer, at which time both sides expressed optimism that the introduction of a third party would be helpful.

Following Thursday’s announcement, both Jaeger and a Harvard spokesperson declined to comment publicly on what progress has been made since those discussions and what exactly they hoped the new mediators might accomplish.

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

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