A Shaky Truce


A week that began with the possibility of another flare-up over the University's reassignment of Buildings and Grounds (B&G) carpenters, turned into a week of silence, as Harvard and the union representing the carpenters prepared for negotiations.

B&G officials, in a March 24 reassignment order, told four carpenters that if they did not report for work on April 3--to accept painting assignments at their usual salaries--they would be taken off the payroll.

Officials of Local 40, the union representing the B&G carpenters, hinted Sunday night that the four carpenters would refuse to report. However, no confrontation materialized, and the workers reported as ordered.

James P. Costello, general agent for Local 40, declined last week to comment on why the workers had decided to report.

Both he and Edward W. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, said the union and the University hoped to renew negotiations last week, on what they described as "a very delicate situation."


Scheduling problems prevented the talks from taking place. However, federal mediator Jerry Gomez said this week he is hopeful the sides might agree soon on a time for the bargaining session.

The University last met with Gomez, state mediator Douglas Botts and representatives from the Maintenance Trades Council (MTC) of New England March 10. The MTC represents the 300 B&G workers who staged a four-day walkout to protest the University's reassignment of B&G carpenters as a threat to their job security.

That strike ended March 24, and the University then announced that all workers who took part in the walkout would be suspended for two days for participation in what the University has labeled a "clearly, illegal strike."

Under the present agreement between Harvard and the MTC, the union must give the University 30 days notice before causing any "direct or indirect interference with the University's operation."

Union officials maintain the walkout does not violate the agreement, because the 30-day clause "does not apply to a dispute over job security." However, the suspensions have already gone into effect.

Neither University nor union officials would discuss the specifics of the negotiations, but both sides have expressed a desire to "resolve all the issues at the bargaining table."