ORGANIZING A CLERICAL and technical workers' union at Harvard is not an easy task. Although a national union has attempted to garner the support of University secretaries and technicians for more than 10 years, workers--amidst rigorous and expensive anti-union campaigns by the Harvard administration--have voted the bargaining units down twice. This spring a clerical and technical union is scheduled to go to another vote.
Harvard has said it opposses such a union because it can provide good wages and working conditions without the interference of a union. It cities its establishment of a long-awaited dental plan as an example of its concern. Also, pointing to last year's Yale strike, the University says that a secretarial union could disrupt the necessary serenity of an academic community.
Harvard's exhaustive efforts at thwarting the drive have included arguing that the Medical Area, where the organizers started, could not have a union because it couldn't be a bargaining unit. As evidence, Harvard said there was no separate employment office there. In fact, there always had been just such an office--until it was moved during the case. The National Labor Relations Board may have been convinced by this argument; we were not.
We believe a union is essential for the University's clerical and technical staff. Similar unions already exist at Boston University, Yale, Columbia and Cornell. And moreover, clerical and technical workers--of whom about 80 percent are women--are the only workers among the University's more than 10,000, not including professors and administrators, who do not belong to a union.
In addition, without a union workers must currently undertake tedious and complex grievance procedures just to register complaints or concerns. With the employees spread throughout College and graduate school offices, the central voice of a union would be the only viable means available for staff to raise issues such as comparable worth and health effects of extensive computer use.
The 10-year union drive has already left a stamp on Harvard. The $1 million dental plan--a benefit the union has pushed for throughout its drive--was largely a result of the UAW's presence in the workplace.
ONE MONTH AGO, however, the organizing drive suffered a setback. This time, though, Harvard had nothing do do with it.
The national and local leaderships of the United Auto Workers (UAW) split over organizing tactics. The national UAW wanted to rely on its prestige and to organize through heavy does of literature in the workplace while the local leaders pushed to continue their one-on-one, grass-roots style of organizing. The local leaders, reacting to the UAW's top-heavy organizing strategy, formed a separate group, preliminary to an official union. The new group must be ratified by the NLRB after a majority of Harvard workers approves it--a conclusion expected after a scheduled spring vote.
Not only must a clerical and technical workers' union be officially established at Harvard, but we think it must contain leadership that is immediately accountable; logically, a union close to its constituency can provide such leadership. We therefore support the former local leaders of the UAW and their newly formed Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. If the local leadership should subsequently choose to affiliate with another national union--a choice which appears likely--we hope they will continue to maintain their high standards and resiliency.