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When undergraduates left for the summer, few knew that the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers--whose 3600 members work in many University offices, libraries and labs--was in the midst of renegotiating is contract.
Over the summer, though, it was hard not to notice, as hundreds of union members took to the streets to advocate higher pay and reproach management for delaying an agreement.
In late June and early July, progress was slow and rhetoric was heavy. Union leaders complained that President Neil L. Rudenstine, who went on vacation in Europe, had skipped town." Toting a larger-than-life cardboard cut-out of the president, workers marched to his house bearing signs that read, "Where on Earth is Neil?"
Union chief negotiator Bill Jaeger said management advocated an "outrageous and insultingly low increase program." But Provost Jerry R. Green accused the union of spreading "disinformation."
When Rudenstine returned to Boston, a welcoming party of about 40 union members greeted him at the airport, playing "Hail to the Chief" on kazoos.
Closed-door talks dragged on for weeks past the previous contract's June 30 expiration date, but negotiators seemed to gain little headway.
In late July, the parties engaged an outside mediator to hasten progress of the talks. The discussions over the bargaining table grew more earnest and intense, and the statements both side made through the newspapers grew more positive, and less confrontational.
By late August, the two sides appeared close to an agreement that would have provided the union a 3 or 4 percent pay raise.
Other key issues in the negotiations included benefits for the domestic partners of gay union members, work security, child care and educational assistance.
But the pay issue was the main source of contention. Management negotiators argued that Harvard is financially hard-pressed. They also pointed out that the University has paid the price for rising health care costs, and that Harvard union members are paid better than their counterparts at other area colleges.
Union leaders, for their part, argued that wages for clerical and technical workers are historically depressed because of gender discrimination.
They said their workers are financially pressed to survive in Cambridge on an average salary of $23,000. And they said workers should not have to suffer now for Harvard's financial excesses of the 1980s.
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