The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) may have won its right to be the official bargaining representative for support staff, but in some ways its position is no different than it was a week ago.
HUCTW's major task now is to negotiate its first contract, and to do so, labor experts say, the union will have to fend off opposition from a University which has fought it for 17 years as well as antagonism from within its own ranks.
If the union and the University cannot agree on key contract points, the process coud drag on for more than a year, and may even result in a strike, according to labor experts. Furthermore, workers could petition the National Labor Relations Board after one year to decertify the union if a contract is not reached.
But labor experts say that HUCTW is in a better position than other newly-formed unions since Harvard has shown a willingness to be accommodating in the wake of its decison last week not to continue the legal battle against unionization.
"The fight isn't over yet," said labor expert Charles Hecksher yesterday. "Negotiating a first contract is often as difficult as organizing for an election. There is a real opportunity for both sides to rebuild unity within the staff, if people really develop the theme, 'It's not anti-Harvard to be pro-union.'"
At Yale--whose support staff union is often compared to HUCTW--the first contract was settled only after 15 months, 91 bargaining sessions and a 10-week strike.
"Everything depends on the attitude of an employer," said labor law scholar Karl Klare. "President Bok has indicated that he will bring a positive spirit to the bargaining table."
In a statement Bok released announcing that he would not appeal a judge's decision upholding last spring's union victory in the face of University charges of unfair labor practice, he emphasized the importance of overcoming "partisan feelings that have naturally arisen in the course of a long campaign."
"I hope that all of us at Harvard--support staff, administrators and faculty--whatever our past views have been, will keep this commitment to foster a spirit of cooperation and help heal a divided community," said Anne H. Taylor, assocaite vice-president for Human Resources, who will be a key player in contract negotiations, in a letter sent to support staff workers last Friday.
"From the sound of it, Harvard has benefited from Yale's mistake," said Lucille Dickus, the president of Local 34, Yale's support staff union. "There was much more immediate overt opposition from the Yale administration thanthere is at Harvard."
However, many employees who voted against theunion said they are skeptical of HUCTW's abilityto negotiate a contract even though the Universityhas accepted the union.
"Harvard can't just give them everything theyare asking for," said one employee, who requestedanonymity. "Something will have to be given up,there may even be a strike and how do we know thatwe will gain more than we lose?"
After the union won its election on May 17,Kris Rondeau, HUCTW's leader, immediately saidthat the union would do all it could to reach outto employees who had voted against HUCTW and "showthem that this is their union too."
Many anti-union employees said on Friday thatthey were angry the University had accepted theunion victory and hinted that they would resistnegotiating a contract.
At Yale, Dickus said that many support staffwere at first very resistant to the union.
"People rise to the occasion when they seethere is opportunity for change," Dickus said,adding that because union organizers spent a lotof one-on-one time with staff and distributedquestionnaires asking workers what they wanted ina contract, even anti-union workers eventually gotinvolved in contract negotiations.
HUCTW has already begun to poll workers aboutwhat their priorities are for the first contract.Although many employees who voted against theunion said that they did so because they did notbelieve HUCTW could meet all the promises it made,most said they will complete the questionnaires
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