Contracted Workers Face Alleged Disparities in Treatment, Privileges

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Economics professor Richard B. Freeman, who is also the faculty co-director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Law School, said in December that workers’ difficulty in airing complaints with Harvard is indicative of the University shifting responsibility to its contractors, even though contracted employees work on campus and are sometimes overseen by Harvard’s management.

“Basically, Harvard doesn’t want to talk to anybody about anything…. They’ll say, ‘this is not our business, these are not our employees,’” he said.

‘EVERYBODY PASSES THE BUCK’

Contracted workers also find themselves excluded from many non-monetary benefits, such as access to Harvard facilities and discounts on travel costs, that University employees receive due to their affiliation with an institution with wide-reaching resources.

For example, Harvard’s CommuterChoice program aims to publicize “commuting information and planning services” for employees on their way to and from Harvard campuses by offering transit passes and up to 50 percent discounts on MBTA travel fares. Harvard affiliates are offered several discounts in Boston and Cambridge, but most, including the Hubway and Zipcar discounts, require a Harvard email address to register online.

According to Colin B. Durrant, a spokesperson from Harvard’s Office of Sustainability, individuals without Harvard email addresses can work with the Office of Sustainability to register for these programs, but they still must be “benefits-eligible faculty and staff paid directly by Harvard University.”

Alasti wrote in an email in December that outsourced workers do not have access to “a variety of housing, travel, [and] counseling” benefits.

“We don’t have access to libraries or gymnasiums, can’t purchase parking permits,” he wrote. “For us security guards, we’re officially not permitted to be in even the publically accessible Harvard buildings unless we are on duty or have ‘official business’ there.”

Freeman said that the discrepancy is made even more salient by the fact that “Harvard treats its workers well…. Of course there will be disputes, but workers are proud to work for Harvard.”

Yet when it comes to contracted workers, “Harvard washes its hands of any responsibility,” Freeman said, “everybody passes the buck.”

—Staff writer Caroline C. Hunsicker can be reached at carolinehunsicker@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @cchunsicker.

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