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A BATTLE OVER BENEFITS

Union Charges Exclusion; University Claims Unusual Expertise Needed in Review

By Tara H. Arden-smith

Administrators faced off against leaders of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers [HUCTW] this week, with the University denying union charges that faculty and staff were deliberately excluded from a University task force created to examine the rising costs of employee benefits.

Several top level administrators have been drawn into the conflict with the union. Administrators, including the task force's chair Provost Jerry R. Green, have called HUCTW complaints invalid.

Green said the HUCTW leaders an members were invited to join one of several task force advisory committees, but declined.

And an official University statement, issued this week by Associate Dean of the Faculty for Finance Candace R. Corvey, suggested that union officials are guilty of distortions in their claims of exclusion.

"Several union officials received initial briefings and indicated a willingness to participate in advisory groups where various options could be explored," Corvey wrote in the statement.

"Other union officials, including the HUCTW leadership, declined the University's invitation to participate in the review process indicating that they were not in agreement with the approach designed by the Task Force," she wrote.

The statement concluded with an assertion that the University remains willing to "meet with the appropriate representatives to discuss and review various benefits programs."

But membership in an advisory group is not enough, HUCTW leaders said last week. Union President Donnie Williams charged that Green's process for reviewing benefits "is not one that includes any sort of respectful partnership."

Bill Jaeger, director of the 3,600-member group agreed. "This looks like a process that a small group of top-level highly paid administrators are trying to control very tightly," he said last week.

But administrators remain adamant that the procedures of the task force are as open and inclusive as possible.

Because of the time commitment and expertise required of Task Force members, faculty and staff were considered inappropriate members for the group, said Nancy L. Maull, the Faculty's administrative dean. The task force has been meeting to study benefits for more than a year, Maull said.

"With such a massive task before us--learning about and dealing intensively with a very complicated subject--democratic representations of all the constituencies which will be affected would be a logistical nightmare," Maul said.

Maull sad the task met throughout last spring and summer in order to become a "well-educated body."

She added that a two tiered structure, that of advisory groups offerings input to a main decision making body, seemed to be the most manageable options at the time the framework was conceived.

"The people on the task force are people who have been made responsible for solving this kind of problem," Maull said. "Their involvement reflects their mastery of some very complex subject matter."

Maull emphasized the Task Force's appeal to members of the Harvard Community for consultation and communication."

While Corvey maintained that the process is not exclusionary, she said the process requires some form of structural hierarchy in order to work.

"It would be unfortunate if the mechanism of a group whose job it is to provide expertise was hindered by incorporating the masses of people who make up this large community," Corvey said.

"But our intent is to solicit every possible opinion from every conceivable constituency," she added.

The results, which are expected to be presented this May, are intended to "provide a set of solutions that are the most workable for everyone," Corvey said.

Maull compared the task force's activities to a "balancing act."

"We need to devise a structure that fits into a fair and competitive level of total compensation that is both affordable to the University and is balanced against employees needs and values," maul said.

But all that explanation leaves a question unanswered: How can a group of administrators accurately assess the needs and values o the wide range of employee constituencies whose fates they might control?

Certainly not by relying on data gathered from questionnaires and advisory groups said Williams, the union president. "Advisory groups are powerless by definition," she said.

And even of they wielded as much influence as administrators say they do, the administrators give different accounts of the activities of the groups.

Green said the groups meet regularly--some as often as three times a month. In contrast, Maull said the groups meet regularly--some as often as three times since the fall.

In addition, administrators were unable to provide lists of the members of the advisory groups this week.

Williams questions whether the advisory groups are meeting at all. "Whenever we try to find out who is meeting and when we can't she said.

"I'm not convinced that these groups are meetings at all consistently or that they're doing anything in any meaningful way," Williams said. "At least I've seen nothing to indicate that they're meeting at all or not meeting in complete secrecy,"

"No list of members and meeting times has ever been published, so how could these people be representative of campus constituents if We don't know who they are?" Williams asked.

Williams also said she was concerned that not only the advisory groups but the task force itself is holding clandestine meetings.

"It's not publicity announced when and where they meet, nor what they're doing," Williams said.

Williams even challenged administrators' assertions that HUCTW leaders were "invited" to form an advisory group.

She said the first contact between Green and HUCTW occurred in late October, months after the task force was formed.

And according to Williams, it was she who contacted Green, not the other way around.

"We were the ones who contacted the provost after he sent a letter to employees," Williams said. "We responded by contacting him because this letter alarmed a large number of our members."

Still top-level administrators are standing firmly together in refuting the charges of the HUCTW leadership.

"I know for a fact that consultation is going on with all the different employee constituencies," Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles said in an interview yesterday.

Knowles said he felt that communication between all parties was satisfactory. "I'm not even on the Task Force and I know what's going on," the dean said.

But in emphasizing the severity of the benefits funding conundrum, knowles echoed Jaeger's comments last week.

"If you get sick youir health benefit is not fringe--it's an important crucial benefit," knowles said. "And administrators understand that."

Corvey, Maull and knowles also refuted a University official's earlier claim that the financial situation on benefits has reached "crisis" proportions. They call it an "Issue," but one which University officials have been aware of for years.

Why then is it just becoming public knowledge now?

Maull described the situation as being part of the larger national problem of the rising costs of health care--a heavily publicized situation that has "become submerged in some people's minds."

And Corvey said that the University's predicament has been thoroughly examined in public forums like the University-controlled Harvard Gazette for months.

"If one had the time to carefully read all the documents that have been published about this growing problem, the dynamics of this issue would have been understood well over a year ago," Corvey said.

"While this is a serious financial threat," she added, "It's certainly not a sudden smack in the face.

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