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As Contract Negotiations Drag On, Harvard Union Members Say

'We Just Don't Want Them To Forget About Our Lives'

By Ira E. Stoll, Crimson Staff Writer

Lynda Reid, her husband and her three children are "just getting by."

She knows she can't afford to go away on vacation or send her kids to college. Even basics, like groceries, must wait for the next paycheck.

"I'm really waiting for that check to go grocery shopping," says Reid, who tried working a second job until she fell asleep standing up and woke up flat on the floor.

Reid, who works as a lab technician for Harvard, is one of 3,600 members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. The union's contract expired June 30, and negotiations for a new one are stalled over the size of a pay increase for union members.

Harvard administrators like President Neil L. Rudenstine and Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs John H. Shattuck defend Harvard's pay raise offer of about four percent. They say Harvard already pays its workers well compared to other area institutions and has no problem attracting and keeping committed workers.

Administrators also say Harvard is financially pressed, and that their offer exceeds the rate of inflation and the size of average contract settlements in 1992.

But behind the open letters, demonstrations, bargaining sessions, offers and counter-offers are real people like Lynda Reid, who has worked for four years at University Health Services.

Reid, who has a chemistry degree from the University of Massachusetts, had seven years of experience before she came to Harvard. She makes $22,000 a year, and she's waiting for a raise.

"Food has gone up, fuel has gone up. Everything has gone up but my paycheck," Reid says. "My husband and I are just getting by. When the basics are done, my paycheck's done."

"We all really just deserve a raise and obviously none of us are rich," Reid says.

Shattuck blames the union for denying its members a raise by not accepting management's most recent offer. "It's disturbing that these increases cannot go into effect right away," he says.

But union members like Reid say administrators just don't get it. "It's just not a reality for them," Reid says.

While workers forego vacations because they can't spare any money at all, Reid says the closest administrators come to sympathizing is when they say, "I didn't take a vacation either this year because I bought a new Mercedes."

Reid, who lives in Brookline and takes the T to work, is concerned that her low pay leaves her with no financial security.

"If I got laid off today, I could not survive from now until the time that I would start receiving unemployment benefits. I would end up homeless," Reid says.

"My friends at other places think that I'm lucky to work here. When I tell them what I'm actually making no one can believe it."

Union Chief Negotiator Bill Jaeger says that typical union workers are not exactly experts on the economic overview of the entire University. They are, he said, "experts on the economic life of a Harvard support staff member."

Three such workers appeared before the management negotiating team at a bargaining session in July. Brought together again last week, the workers told tales of economic distress.

All three take public transportation to work, and all say they like their jobs. They also say the ongoing contract talks have not harmed their job performance.

Kim Dobbie, 29, works in the financial office at the American Repertory Theater. She has worked at Harvard for five years and is the single parent of a five-year-old daughter, Eva Wilbar, now in public school. Dobbie lives in West Cambridge and has a B.F.A. in theater management.

She makes $24,000 a year.

Dobbie, too, worries about financial security.

"The loss of one paycheck could be really detrimental to me and my daughter," she says.

Dobbie says a raise could mean being able to buy new clothes for her daughter, or being able to go out to dinner at McDonald's without having to worry about being set back for an entire week.

She says her current salary is barely enough to cover the essentials.

"We certainly don't have savings. We buy our new clothes at K-Mart," Dobbie says. "We certainly don't have luxuries in our lives."

Before the Harvard union was created, Dobbie says, things were even worse. She started at Harvard making $15,200 a year. "I really wasn't eating very much," she says.

Low pay from Harvard also forced her into several painful situations, she says. When her daughter was a baby she thought she might have to give her up for adoption. And at times, her daughter was exposed to abusive child care situations because it was so hard to find affordable child care, she says.

"I'm not telling you this because it's a pitiful story," she says, but because similar cases occur "across the University" and people don't know about them.

Doris Collier, 61, lives on the Medford hillside. She's been married for 42 years to a man who works for the state housing authority. She has six grandchildren. Both her parents are alive--her father is in a New Hampshire nursing home.

Collier has worked at Widener Library for 13 years, paying bills for books the library buys. She's worked at Harvard for 14 years.

She makes $25,000 a year.

It's making ends meet, however, that can be difficult. "It's extremely stressful at times," Collier says. She finds it most trying to take care of her elderly parents.

"I do not ever want to be in the position that my parents are in. My parents haven't got anything. They've got nothing," Collier says.

Collier talks of having trouble finding $90 to pay to fix her father's wheelchair. And she says Medicaid doesn't cover things like false teeth.

With a raise, Collier said, "you can look forward to a few extra dollars so you don't have to worry about that." She wants to be able to help out her unemployed son-in-law and to pay for dance lessons for her grandchildren.

With health care costs pressing, Collier has little money left over for luxuries. "I'm 61 years old and I've never been on a cruise," she says.

Rudenstine and his management team can make a difference in whether Collier's grandchildren get those dance lessons, whether Dobbie's daughter gets new clothes and whether Reid gets a vacation, the workers say.

They say that when they appeared before the management negotiating team, most of the administrators present seemed to be listening carefully.

An exception, Collier says, was Medical School Executive Dean for Administration David M. Bray, who "was quite rude, looking at the ceiling, cleaning his glasses."

In an interview over the summer, Bray said he takes the negotiations seriously and is not responsible for how others interpret his body language.

Reid says she is not terribly optimistic about her voice getting through to administrators making $100,000 a year or more. "Based on the way that they live and based on what their salaries probably were, they were totally out of touch," she says.

But Dobbie speaks with an urgency that suggests that an improved understanding is not only possible but important. "We are real people, we're intelligent, educated people," she says. "We just

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