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Bargaining With the Giant

Harvard Labor Unions: Different Tactics, Similar Results

By John F. Baughman

'Harvard has more money than God, and they have more bargaining ability than all the angels in heaven.' --Domestic Bozzotto, president of Local 26, the union which represents Harvard's dining hall workers.

In the late 1930's, when Harvard's nonprofessional workers organized, two unions represented most of the University's employees. Over the intervening 40 years the original duo fractured into nine smaller organizations formed along more specialized lines. Nevertheless, many of the issues and problems they confront retain strong similarities. Although the character and membership of the current unions vary greatly, their primary concerns--wages, benefits and join security--are substantially the same. They have negotiated separately and chosen different bargaining strategies, yet may of the largest contracts possess strong parallels. And all the unions have been confronted by a common problem: in bargaining with Harvard they face an exceedingly efficient and effective contract negotiating team.

Like most labor organizations, Harvard's nine unions have traditionally sought high wages and more employer-supported health, safety, pension and insurance plans. However, insuring job security has perhaps become the primary focus of union activity at Harvard.

Leaders of the electricians, tradesmen and food service workers unions all say that their members job security is severely compromised by the University's practice of contracting specific jobs to outside--sometimes non-union--companies. In recent years, Harvard has offered new dining hall contracts in the Science Center and the Kennedy School to outside companies. As Edward Powers, associate general counsel for employee relation notes, these firms are able to provide food service for $2.00-$2.50 an hour less than the regular union shop. Although Powers denies allegations that the University has ever laid off a food service worker because of an outside contract. Domenic Bozzotto the president of Local 26. Hotel, Restaurant, Institutional Employees and Bartenders Union (AFL-CIO) contends that the University will eventually try to contract out dining halls currently run by his union. Two years ago, when the present contract was being negotiated, the University contracted out one smaller dining hall and shifted the workers to other areas. Bozzotto says

Officials in the various trade unions complain that Harvard is hiring outside carpenters, painters, plumbers and other tradesmen on a job by job basis to do work that could easily be done by the University's permanent union employees. As Andris J. Silins, negotiator for the carpenters union, notes. "The more jobs they contract out the less job security the long-time people have."

Despite their similar concerns, union leaders have traditionally adopted widely different negotiating tactics. For 29 years after the formation of Harvard's first union, the University did not face a single strike. Then in May 1967 two occurred in one week.

On Monday, May 16, employees at the Harvard Printing Office walked off the job, demanding higher wages. Four days later, tradesmen affiliated with the Buildings and Grounds union voted to strike for independent recognition.

The two 1967 strikes may have indicated a small crack in Harvard's traditionally firm control over its unions, but it did nothing to systematize union activity. Some unions--like the printers--have struck repeatedly. Others have repeatedly threatened to strike. Some--the police, in particular--have held bargaining session after bargaining session, dragging negotiations on for months. And a few have signed on the dotted line.

Despite the union's different bargaining strategies, many have remarkably similar contracts with the University. In 1979 and 1980, Harvard successfully negotiated contracts with identical pay raises and very similar benefits with four of the largest unions representing Harvard employees Local 26, the Maintenance Trade Council Harvard University Employees Representative. Association (which represents the rest of Buildings and Grounds workers, and the bakers) and police man's union.

According to Harvard's General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54, the similarities between the contracts was primarily because they were negotiated under similar circumstances at about the same time. But he adds despite slight differences in working conditions and pay, it makes sense to negotiate with all the unions in the same way.

Both Steiner and Powers, the University's chief bargaining agent, have reputations as tough negotiators, and they are backed by a very efficient legal organization. The general counsel's office has a large staff which researches current agreements, union finances, labor law and prepares the University's contract offers. "When we sit down at the table Harvard has about a million guys with calculators," says one union official.

The unions too are starting to develop more common goals and communication so each will be able to negotiate more effectively on an individual basis. Especially for unions which have other contracts in private industry, bargaining with Harvard can be difficult because the two parties "don't speak the same language." Paul Madden of the plumbers union said recently. "We're in the building trades and we're used to negotiating with building trades people. But negotiating with Harvard is out of this world. It's not like sitting down with your own kind."

The four large contracts negotiated two years ago all expire within the next 15 months and although officials from each of the unions say the negotiations will be tough, only the most militant, Local 26, has threatened a strike. In the event of a strike. Powers says, the University is willing to do whatever it has to do to "find other ways of getting the job done, Bozzotto adds. "We have to do whatever we have to do to make sure the strike is successful."

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