THE UNIVERSITY closes out the academic year replete with labor troubles. The year, which began rather inauspiciously, with a worsening boondoggle centering around the University's successful countering of the most serious on-campus organizing drive in recent memory, now ends with a deteriorating situation in the University kitchens.
The University has proven itself a staunch opponent of its own workers and unions at virtually every turn this year.
Harvard has, by and large, succeeded in blocking a drive by District 65 of the Distributive Workers of America to unionize clerical and technical workers both on the main campus and at the Medical Area. The drive, which began in 1974 in the Med Area, has met with near-complete success there, but the failure of the University to recognize the area as an appropriate unit for collective bargaining has resulted in a fiasco whose end still seems more than a year off.
The case was divided into two parts, juggled about in the hearing rooms of the regional National Labor Relations Board for nearly a year, and was finally decided--against the union. The decision was especially difficult for the union organizers to stomach in light of a seemingly contradictory decision rendered by the Washington board on the same day that regional director Robert Fuchs handed down his ruling.
The union's case took one small turn for the better last month when the Washington board accepted it for review. The University should by now realize that its continued opposition to a Med Area union is both futile and counterproductive; Harvard must abandon its position against the union and District 65.
Harvard again acted unwisely in the case of Sherman Holcombe, a kitchen worker and union shop steward who was suspended in February after an altercation with his supervisor. Holcombe's treatment in the wake of his suspension was lamentable; the entire case pointed up glaring flaws--as yet not rectified--in the University's internal grievance mechanism. Holcombe's case proved that a worker cannot receive a fair hearing if his immediate supervisor--who is often a party to the dispute--is also called upon to conduct the investigation into the case.
Harvard has repeatedly offered to refer cases of this nature to binding external arbitration, knowing full well that by doing so it would place the cases even further away from final resolution. The University prides itself on its internal grievance mechanism, but has repeatedly failed to clarify, or indeed, to rectify it.
The University's anti-union attitude and the breakdown of the grievance process claimed another victim when Paul Trudel, a Central Copy Services worker, was fired in February, allegedly for unionizing activity. The whitewash which followed the Trudel firing was near-complete, and totally successful--Trudel, unemployed for several months and awaiting a ruling on his case, decided to drop his charges against the University. Still, many questions remain unanswered, and the University has, needless to say, not been forthcoming with the answers.
The Holcombe case was a harbinger of greater troubles in the Harvard kitchens. Frustrated by the racist policies of dining hall manager Buford Simpson, a restrictive summer hiring policy and the intimidation of shop stewards by Simpson and others, nearly one hundred workers walked off their jobs during a lunch hour several weeks ago. The repercussions of the walkout were predictable--all the workers who participated were punished with warning slips on their records, and three shop stewards were suspended. No effort was made to initiate a dialogue between the University and the workers to resolve the problems which led to the walkout. Instead, with the union's contract negotiations set to begin on the same day on which the suspensions were announced, the University resorted to the very "confrontation" politics which it so often accuses the Union of employing.
The repercussions of the University's anti-union actions will not soon be forgotten. The University must abandon such policies now. The workers, for their part, must press unceasingly for a change in University labor policy and practice, and must continue their drive to revise the internal grievance and investigatory processes. Student initiatives to support the workers should continue and intensify. Anti-unionism and policies which are inherently opposed to the workers' best interests should be doggedly opposed by a student-worker coalition, and should ultimately be discontinued.
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