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Dining Workers Seek Back Benefits

Contest Denial of Summer Unemployment

By Mark T. Whitaker

Six Harvard dining hall employees who have charged the University with unjustly denying them unemployment benefits during a three-month lay-off period last summer appealed their case for the third time last Friday in a hearing before the Massachusetts Employment Security Division (MESD).

In refusing the workers' request for unemployment benefits last summer, the University presented evidence that the dining halls had offered--and the employees had turned down--temporary jobs to tide them over the summer period.

Each of the six workers, however, has complained in subsequent appeals to the MESD that they did not consider the temporary job offers fair, either because the proposed jobs would downgrade their employment status or would involve working the "graveyard shift," between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Sylvia Gallagher, union shop steward in the Eliot House dining hall and one of the workers who has complained to the MESD, said yesterday that she refused a part-time job the University offered her because it would have involved working during the weekend and during mornings, when she would have had difficulty finding a baby-sitter.

Down-Graded Status?

The offer of only part-time employment to Gallagher might also represent "an attempt to downgrade her status" in response to a grievance Gallagher filed against the University with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last spring, William F. Kuntz, a third-year law student and Eliot House resident tutor who acted as Gallagher's agent at the MESD hearing, said yesterday.

During the hearing before two officers from the MESD Board of Review Examiners on Friday, Kuntz submitted for the record the events behind Gallagher's grievance to the NLRB.

The NLRB grievance came after the University slapped Gallagher with a five-day suspension and docked her two hours pay for leading a noon-time walk-out of Eliot House dining hall employees for an emergency union meeting on June 3, 1976.

Gallagher helped organize the emergency meeting of members of Local 26 of the Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Employees Union after Buford M. Simpson, manager of the College dining hall, allegedly threatened to fire Alan Balsam, Local 26's chief shop steward at Harvard.

The NLRB grievance "obviously could have influenced the University's decision to offer her only part-time summer employment, and I argued it did," Kuntz said yesterday.

The other five workers who went before the MESD Friday, all women, told the review officers that they felt the University still had the obligation to pay them unemployment benefits after they turned down offers to work full time on the 'graveyard shift' between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., Kuntz said.

In arguing the case for the five workers, Richard Coleman, an attorney for Local 26, cited a Massachusetts statute that makes it legitimate for "female employees" to opt for unemployment benefits rather than take a job that involves working between midnight and 6 a.m., Kuntz said.

An attorney from the firm of Ropes and Gray, representing the University, countered by arguing that the statute was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, pointing to a 1970 opinion to this effect expressed by the Massachusetts attorney-general, Kuntz said.

The Ropes and Gray attorney did not cite any official rulings, either from state or federal judges, Kuntz said.

Neither Coleman nor the attorney representing Harvard could be reached for comment yesterday.

"Many of these workers testified that they did not accept the graveyard shift jobs because they lived alone in Watertown and Someville, did not drive and would have to have used mass transit, and were afraid of coming in and out of Harvard Square in the middle of the night," Kuntz said.

For all six employees last Friday's hearing represented the third stage in their appeal for back unemployment benefits, which would amount to between $900 and $1000 each.

In Gallagher's case, the first appeal ended when an investigator for the MESD interviewed both her and the Harvard officials who offered her the part-time employment and ruled that Gallagher should not receive the back benefits.

Gallagher then appealed the decision to an MESD hearing officer, who turned down the second appeal last November.

The hearing before the officers of the Board of Review Examiners marks the last step that the employees can take before going into court to contest the University denial of benefits, Kuntz said.

He added that if the workers win this appeal, he did not think the University would appeal that MESD ruling to a court of law

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