A group of approximately 15 University workers, student labor activists, and union representatives gathered outside Holyoke Center late Friday afternoon to protest what they claimed were instances of discrimination against employees and retaliation against union activism by Harvard.
Carrying signs and marching in a circle, protesters chanted in support of three workers, including Nassim Kerkache, who currently serves as coordinator of Harvard Yard Mail Center. In a phone interview before the rally, Kerkache said he was informed at the start of this month by management that there was no longer a need for a coordinator for the mail center. He said he was given the choice of accepting either an effective salary grade demotion or a layoff.
Kerkache, who said he has served in his current post for about nine years, alleged that management’s actions were motivated in part by racism and as retaliation against his involvement with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Kerkache serves as a local representative in the union.
Kerkache, who first moved to the United States from Algeria in 1994, claimed that his manager had previously made comments criticizing his English skills, education, and manners, which he said he found offensive.
When asked about Kerkache’s allegations, University spokesperson Kevin Galvin declined to comment, saying he would not speak regarding personnel matters. Kerkache’s manager did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Kerkache said that he was originally told that to stay employed by the University he would have to take a position three salary grades lower than his current role. According to union representative Geoff Carens, Harvard University Mail Services has since offered to move Kerkache to a position that is one salary grade, rather than three, below his current position.
Still, Carens, who helped lead the protest outside Holyoke Friday, said in an interview after the demonstration that he and Kerkache would “definitely” consider taking legal action if Kerkache is not allowed to stay at his current salary grade. Carens said he is currently waiting to hear back from a Harvard human resources representative in the midst of correspondence about Kerkache’s case.
For his part, Kerkache said the situation was a “shock” to him. “I love my job. I’ve been here for a long time,” he said.
Demonstrators also spoke out Friday against what they described as the unfair treatment of two other workers employed by the University. They supported Harvard University Mail Services employee Mamadou Ndiaye, who protesters alleged has unfairly been given fewer work hours than he wants, and Paul J. Casey, a maintenance technician who protesters claimed has been laid off because he took a disability leave. Galvin declined to comment on Ndiaye and Casey’s cases as well.
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.