Boston Conference Seeks to Organize University Workers

Representatives from two committees now organizing Harvard's salary-and-wage employees will attend a conference of Boston-area university office workers this afternoon to discuss legal rights, affirmative action, and union organizing.

The conference--which is the first large gathering specifically for university office workers in this area--is sponsored by Nine to Five, a Boston-based organization of clerical employees.

Karen Nussbaum, a staffer for Nine to Five's University Office Workers' Committee, said yesterday that about 200 people from 15 to 20 area universities are expected to attend the conference.

"There are some unique aspects to the problems university workers face," Nussbaum said. "The pay is particularly low, based on the notion of prestige and the relaxed atmosphere--there are problems of image and myth accompanying that kind of work."

Nussbaum also said it was difficult to organize in universities as a result of high turnover rate and non-profit status. "They can always say, 'We have to tighten our belts, universities aren't doing that well this year," she said.


The only area university which now has a union of clerical workers is the University of Massachusetts, where salary-and-wage employees have formed a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Although no private universities have clerical unions yet, at least three insituations--MIT, Harvard, and the Harvard Medical School--have union organizing committees, and "a couple of others are right on the brink," Nussbaum said.

Jane Strunsky, a secretary at the Law School and chairman of the Harvard Employees Organizing Committee, said eight or nine members of her organization and 11 or 12 members of the Medical Area Employees Organizing Committee will attend the conference this afternoon.

The two groups are conducting separate efforts to establish locals of District 65 of the Distributive Workers of America, a New York-based union, but John B. Butler, director of personnel, has said that a union of Medical Area clerical and technical workers would not be "an appropriate bargaining unit" because it would not include the 3000 Harvard clerical employees in Cambridge and those at the Business School