At each major step in its campaign to represent the University's 3400 support staff members, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) has accused University administrators of using anti-union tactics to deny employees their legitimate right to representation.
The union has accused Harvard of being "the worst anti-union employer around," claiming that since last March--when HUCTW first requested an election--the University has done all it could to prevent unionization.
But administrators say that the tactics which HUCTW calls anti-union are merely the attempts of an employer trying to assure that when a support staff union is certified and operative, it will represent a legitimate choice made a majority of the employees.
The seven months since HUCTW sought a campus election have featured a clash between these conflicting interpretations time after time.
With last week's sharply worded ruling against Harvard by a judge appointed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the University's right to appeal and HUCTW's right to speedy certification will again be at odds.
And, according to labor experts, each time the University challenges HUCTW, their position seems more like an anti-union tactic than an appeal to ensure the sanctity of a union election.
"Up to this point, the union-University record looked pretty balanced," said Business School labor expert Charles Heckscher. "With the judge's decision, public opinion takes a swing against the University, and now they are on the defensive."
Although the battle over organizing Harvard's clerical and technical workers is now nearly 17 years old, only in recent months has HUCTW had the support to call for a campus-wide election.
Last March, the union announced that it had the majority support of workers for an election. Organizers began an immediate campaign to urge the University not to delay the timing of the election.
In the weeks that followed, University officials said they would not agree to an election date until administrators had determined precisely which employees were eligible to vote, a process which they said might take time.
HUCTW used public support to pressure Harvard to "negotiate not litigate," accusing the University of stalling the election as a tactic in an anti-union campaign.
Labor experts said that the two-month lag time between HUCTW's announcement of support for a vote and the election was typical. But the union's immediate agitation against Harvard--about what it termed prompt action on the election--would linger through all subsequent negotiations and hostilities between the two sides.
After the election date had been set, the union began a highly publicized campaign for Harvard to remain "neutral" on the question of unionization until the May election date.
HUCTW supporters said that in order to be neutral, the University should not discuss the campaign with any of the support staff. They claimed that any discussions between employer and employee would be manipulative.
But the University argued that they had a responsibility to present a different view about unionization than the one HUCTW organizers promoted, saying that an unbiased presentation is neutral under the law.