Union Demands University Action On Health Care

Issues Strongly Worded Open Letter

Its contract expired for more than four months, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers yesterday publicly pressed University management for progress on health care and wages.

The 3600 member union had been fairly quiet for the month of October as it engaged in mediated bargaining sessions over a new contract. But yesterday it issued a strongly worded open letter on health care and placed a full page advertisement in The Crimson.

The actions come on the heels of a Halloween rally outside the home of President Neil L. Rudenstine.

The health care letter charged that Harvard is doing "virtually nothing" to coherently plan for and manage health care costs and delivery.

"The University's approach to the consideration of complex health care costs is not comprehensive or inclusive, but remains chaotic and confused," the letter says.


Union Chief Negotiator Bill Jaeger said yesterday that the University's attitude toward health care is symbolic of larger problems.

"The incoherence of University management's action on health care is basically the same problem as the incoherence that has plagued the negotiations," Jaeger said.

Health care benefits in general have not been an issue in the contract talks, although benefits for domestic partners of union members have been a bone of contention, and a committee is now studying that issue.

Rudenstine said in an interview yesterday that while health care costs are rising, there are no ongoing efforts to review the entire health benefits package.

Rudenstine said Harvard will, along with the rest of the nation, be carefully watching the trends in health care costs in the coming years. "What the federal government does could affect us," Rudenstine said.

The union, however, should not be forced to bear the brunt of rising health care costs, he said. "It doesn't fall on their shoulders any more than on any other part of the University," Rudenstine said.

Still, he said health care costs are part of the broad-based economic pressures which have made Harvard seek to economize in all areas.

The union letter suggest that Harvard should call upon its own academic experts to help control campus health care costs without limiting access or quality. Yet two of those experts interviewed yesterday said they doubted they could be of much help.

Robert J. Blendon, Lee professor of health policy and management, said Harvard as a single institution would have a tough time finding a solution to the problem. "It's a national problem," Blendon said, "I don't think there is any great cure."

Blendon did say he thought the letter should be taken seriously as a complaintabout Harvard's failure to communicate its healthcare policy to workers. "I think people shouldn'tfeel as alienated as the letter makes it sound,"Blendon said.

Ronald David, a lecturer in public policy atthe Kennedy School, agreed the problem is anational one. He said the answer lies not withHarvard academic experts, but with the entireHarvard and Cambridge community.

Yesterday's advertisement reiterated theunion's call for a wage increase and says "Harvardcan afford to do the right thing."

The ad also says "there are deep and growingdivisions in pay at Harvard." It says Harvard canafford to pay its workers more, and it raises thespectre of having the relationship between Harvardand its workers "devolve into an uneasy standoffrooted in suspicion and rigidity."

Rudenstine said he wants to reach "a fair andequitable settlement" with the union