Harvard's kitchen workers last night voted to reject their latest contract offer and to authorize their union negotiators to call a strike if further negotiations with the University do not produce more favorable terms.
The members of Local 26 of the Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Employees Union voted down the contract by a 5-to-4 ratio and then decided by voice vote to authorize a strike at a two-hour meeting, a kitchen worker who asked to remain unidentified said yesterday.
Approximately 200 workers attended the meeting at the Science Center chaired by union officials and Richard Coleman, the union's lawyer.
As Coleman read out the terms of the contract, union members continuously shouted derisive comments. "It's a lousy contract -- it's terrible," one member shouted when Coleman began to speak.
The contract, which union officials describe as Harvard's "final offer," contains a wage increase of 6 per cent this year and 7 per cent next year, as well as additional vacation time for employes with ten or more years' service.
But many workers at the meeting criticized the contract because it does not include benefits such as pension plans, dental costs and Blue Cross coverage.
Edward F. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, could not be reached for comment last night.
At the outset of the meeting, one kitchen worker stood up and said, "I don't see how I can ratify this contract without the benefits."
Coleman and the union officials said the University is negotiating all pension and dental plans with all Harvard's unions in order to ensure a uniform policy. University negotiators have agreed to a pension plan increase, but have not specified details because the Corporation must approve the plan first, Coleman and the officials added.
The union members at the meeting, however, said they mistrusted the University's verbal offer. "It's not written on paper, and we don't know if Harvard will go back on its word," one worker said.
After an hour of discussion, James Sullivan, president of Local 26, called for a vote. After the union voted down the contract, the workers discussed whether to vote for a strike.
One kitchen worker who asked to remain unidentified said after the meeting, "Some of the union members didn't want to strike, but after they were told the union would hold a separate vote before going out on strike, the vote to authorize a strike was nearly unanimous."
Mel Peoples, chief shop steward for the Harvard dining halls and one of the members of the negotiating committee, asked the shop stewards of each dining hall to consult with the kitchen workers to draw up a list of terms they wanted included in a new contract.
Peoples ended the meeting by saying he would meet with the shop stewards next week to go over the new union terms with Sullivan.
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