Dining Workers Veto Strike, Vote to Accept Contract Offer

Harvard's kitchen workers last night decided in a close vote to accept the University's contract offer, reversing an earlier vote in September to reject the same contract.

After a heated two-hour meeting closed to the public, the members of Local 26 of the Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Employees Union voted 148 to 95 to ratify the contract, a kitchen worker who asked to remain unidentified said last night.

Edward F. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, could not be reached for comment late last night.

Union officials called last night's meeting to inform workers that University negotiators refused last Wednesday to renegotiate the contract, as the workers had asked in the September vote. Kitchen workers wanted a new contract to include a written commitment by the University to increase pensions and to provide for dental coverage.

The contract, which will expire in June 1980, provides for a 6-per-cent increase this year and a 7-per-cent increase next year, as well as increased vacation time for employees with ten or more years of service.


Workers at the meeting were concerned that if they rejected the contract again, they would have to strike, workers said after the meeting. They questioned the availability of union strike payments and whether a strike might result in Harvard withdrawing some of its concessions in the present contract, the workers added.

"If we don't sign the contract, Harvard may take away benefits from us," one worker said.

Mel Peoples, co-head shop steward for the Harvard dining halls, said yesterday the kitchen workers do not plan a walkout or work slowdown to protest the contract, but "are going to start compiling demands for the next contract."

Although the majority of the workers voted to ratify the contract, some workers said there was a split in the union between younger workers, who favored a strike, and older workers who preferred not to jeopardize their jobs.

"The youth in the union wanted to hold out for the pension--only the gray-haired people were clapping after the vote," one worker who asked to remain unidentified said last night.

Peoples said any disagreements in the union do not damage the union's unity. "In any given group of people, individuals will establish their own goals they wish to achieve, and if they don't achieve these goals, there will be dissatisfaction in any agreements reached," he added.

Peoples also said he does not believe the union has been weakened because it reversed its vote on the contract. "The University is now aware our workers will not idly accept any contract they will give, and the University is aware of our basic objection about no concrete benefits," he added.

Benefits Policy

Harvard unions are trying to agree on a uniform benefits policy, and the University has set up a committee to coordinate benefits packages, Peoples said.

"I feel the University has some intent to devise a benefits package, but I don't know the limits of that intent," he added.

Peoples said although the union did not gain the concessions it wanted, he has learned a great deal from the negotiations process. "I have learned much about the people I must deal with and about their frailties and weakness, and will in the future utilize these weaknesses to the best advantage we can put them to," he added.