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Workers' Struggle


FOR THE FIRST TIME in recent memory, the news out of the University dining halls last October was good. Local 26 of the Hotel, Institutional and Restaurant Employees Union announced it had come to terms with the University on a new contract for Harvard's nearly 450 kitchen workers after summer-long negotiations.

The new contract settlement, while not exactly what the workers had originally demanded, nonetheless represents a marked improvement over the previous pact, and a victory for workers who last year took the University to task for such abuses as failing to list available kitchen jobs and allegedly discriminating against minority workers.

In addition to granting the workers a wage increase, the new contract gives them tangible protection from the most pernicious abuses against which the workers protested last spring.

Among the most significant benefits included under the new pact is a provision requiring management to post all available job openings well in advance and a clause requiring the presence of a union representative at all workers' disciplinary hearings.

The need for worker vigilance and continued agitation was underscored by the debate surrounding the University's distribution of summer jobs to the workers. Last spring, the University changed a long-standing policy of offering unemployment benefits to workers during the three-month summer layoff period. Instead, the University began to offer its employees temporary jobs to tide them over the summer months. On the surface, the change might appear to be generous attempt to offer workers full summer salaries instead of the lesser compensation of unemployment benefits.

It became clear last summer, however, that the University's first priority was to escape the cost of the benefits by offering unattractive late-night and part-time work. Last summer, when six College Dining Hall employees refused temporary jobs, the University denied them the unemployment benefits they had received in the past. The six workers have since made three appeals to the Massachusetts Employment Security Division (MESD) in an attempt to force Harvard to pay the denied benefits.

The University showed extreme callousness toward the workers at the hearings, which also brought to light the possibility that Harvard used the new summer hiring policy to punish a shop steward in Eliot House for union-related activities. Last spring, Sylvia Gallagher helped lead a lunch-hour walkout by members of Local 26 for an emergency union meeting. When the University slapped Gallagher with a five-day suspension and docked her two hours pay, she filed a grievance against Harvard with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Several weeks later, Harvard offered Gallagher only a part-time summer job--one that Gallagher's legal advisor says could have downgraded her employment status.

The University must be condemned for its unfeeling and--in Gallagher's case, possibly vindictive--treatment of its workers. It is unfortunate that in offering these workers undesirable jobs, and in trying to circumvent a statute that would support the employees the University has seen fit to hide behind legal technicalities that thinly mask a cold, calculated attempt to cut back on labor costs.

Nearly 1000 clerical and technical workers in the Medical Area received their happiest news in three years, however, when the NLRB last month overturned a regional director's ruling and granted the right to hold a unionizing election under District 65 of the Distributive Workers of America. The workers, who began their organizing drive in 1974, almost saw it disintegrate on all too many occasions. The University doggedly opposed District 65 every step of the way for two and a half years, and mustered every ounce of the formidable legal talent at its disposal to stave off the union in the halls of the NLRB. Despite Harvard's recalcitrance, despite the reluctance of regional director Robert Fuchs to hear the case, despite Fuchs's original ruling against the union, and despite the lengthy delay in the case's resolution by the Washington NLRB, the union prevailed. And now, an election has been scheduled in the Med area for June 29. It is sincerely hoped that the union will win that election, and that the workers will finally gain the representation for which they have fought so hard, and which they so richly deserve.

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