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THE UNIVERSITY'S handling of the complex dispute between the police administration and the union representing Harvard's police officers has thus far been a cautious but discouragingly slow treatment of a pressing question. Although the Harvard Police Association's dissatisfaction with the reorganization efforts of David L. Gorski, chief of University Police, has occupied center stage since contract negotiations between the two sides began last January, efforts to resolve the question have produced little progress. In the meantime, the 40 Harvard police officers who have been working without a contract since January 1 have not been able to advance their claims for increased salary and benefits.
At the center of the dispute is the union's claim that Gorski's drive to improve the force's efficiency by increasing the size of each officer's beat and instituting a de facto freeze on hiring has lowered morale on the force. Union officials say there is a "deep mistrust of the chief of police" among union members as a result of the changes, and would like to see a reduction in working hours to make up for the increased workload. One union spokesman suggested that Gorski's reorganization might be part of a larger University plan "to rid itself of unionization in the police force" by driving out older members of the force and refusing to hire new replacements. The University has replied that there is "a danger of overstating the importance" of the morale question, and has stated that it hopes to solve the reorganization question without interfering with the issues of salary and benefits involved in the contract talks.
The question of how much of the union's dissatisfaction is genuine and how much one can lay simply to the inevitable resistance to change within any organization is still an open one. Certainly some of the union opposition seems to stem from personal antipathy towards Gorski, who as a newcomer bent on shaking up the University's police force was certain to encounter a considerable amount of parochial resistance. Nevertheless, the University's response has so far demonstrated little recognition of the fact that the Police Association might have some valid arguments--and as a result there seems little chance of disentangling the contract negotiations in the near future.
The University's latest move to break the morale deadlock and move on to the pressing economic issues is an example of this seeming insensitivity to the union's position. In the lull since the contract talks recessed late last month, University negotiators have, at the instruction of the federal mediator handling the negotiations, staged a search for a third party to help resolve the reorganization problems. Yet from the start University and union officials have apparently held different views of the type of intermediary needed to solve the problem. While Henry Wise '18, attorney for the Police Association, has called for a "blue-ribbon panel" of independent experts to study the morale issue, Edward W. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, will state only that the University intends to engage an organization with "considerable resources" and a "background in dealing with organizational change in police departments."
This is a broad definition--one that has raised the ire of union officials, who fear the University may be planning to hire a commercial management firm of the sort that frequently takes a pro-management bias in dealing with labor disputes. Yet despite the union's concern, Powers will not further characterize the type of organization the University will engage--despite the fact that the union must also approve its choice before negotiations can resume.
The issue is not whether the University and union will ultimately agree on a third party to help mediate their differences. The two sides, while far apart on many issues, still appear willing to negotiate the morale problem, and the union has thus far avoided raising the threat of a work action that could only cloud the dispute even further. Yet the University's apparent reluctance to reach a quick agreement with the union on the preliminary question of a third party to the negotiations creates some doubt as to its willingness to face the important non-salary issues that concern union members. Its failure to work closely with union officials in choosing a mediator has only resulted in the delay of contract negotiations that could, if prolonged, persuade the union to give in on the moral issue as the only means of achieving a quick settlement of the bread-and-butter questions of pay and benefits. Such a development would give short shrift to an important union grievance, and only serve to exacerbate an already difficult situation. While the temptation to avoid the reorganization question might be great, the University should give more credence to all the union's demands, and thus achieve a quick and far-reaching accommodation that will avoid even more serious labor problems in the future.
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