Contracted Workers Face Alleged Disparities in Treatment, Privileges

From early morning duties to late night shifts, staff at Harvard maintain the dining halls, provide custodial services, and work to keep the campus secure. While many of these workers are directly employed by the University, thousands of them are actually employed by independent companies, which work on contract for Harvard.

On paper, the same rules apply to both contracted workers and University employees, but some contracted workers—who may even work side by side with Harvard employees—say that they face unequal working conditions.

One of Harvard’s most recognizable contractors is Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., a company that provides security guards across campus. Others include Unicco, which provides custodial workers, and Sodexo, which offers catering services. Because of their contracted status, workers at these companies often straddle the line between being members of the Harvard staff and being outsiders.

One Securitas officer, when asked whether she felt as if she were treated differently than a direct Harvard employee, simply responded, “Yes.” She spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about angering her supervisors.

Eight other contracted workers declined to comment for this story, many saying that they were prohibited from speaking with reporters.

Still, union leaders and workers who did grant interviews say that despite comparable compensation between contract workers and Harvard employees, contracted workers often do not receive the same non-wage benefits as full employees. Furthermore, confusion regarding the supervision of contracted workers and contracting companies’ incentives to maintain positive relations with Harvard can allegedly lead to unexpected worker transfers, shift changes, and what some call a problematic grievance process.

EQUALITY ON PAPER

Under current University policy, contracted workers are entitled to the same wages as Harvard employees in similar positions, but some say that the problem of equalizing non-wage benefits and treatment, such as membership to certain discount programs, remains.

When the Securitas contract was renegotiated for an additional three years in 2012 after a prolonged discussion about benefits, Securitas workers and their union, SEIU Local 615, argued that they deserved the same compensationthrough benefits as well as wagesas direct Harvard employees. This dispute came ten years after Harvard instituted the Wage Benefit and Parity Policy, which was intended to solve the problem of wage discrepancies, according to Tania deLuzuriaga, a senior Harvard communications officer, in mid-December.

The WBPP “seeks to ensure that contracted custodial, retail dining and security service workers at Harvard receive total compensation comparable to that offered to corresponding University employees,” deLuzuriaga wrote in an earlier email in November.

But some union leaders and workers say that the policy’s scope is limited, leaving room for a disparity in how unions are able to address workers’ complaints.

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