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Last week's labor developments at Harvard were both encouraging and somewhat dismaying. Security guards, parking monitors and museum attendants voted to establish a new union, after their contract with their old union, Local 254 expired on November 15. Local 254 has recently been accused of representing workers in bad faith and selling its employees short for the University's benefit. However, while we believe that the new union may be able to better represent these Harvard workers, we are concerned about internal tension in the new union, which appears to be split along occupational lines. The security guards seem to be in control of the new union, and the museum attendants are worried about lack of adequate representation. We urge both groups to make a concerted effort to resolve their differences so that the new union will be able to act effectively.
Local 254 became embroiled in controversy over a contract which its management negotiated between custodial workers and the University. This new contract instituted a 20-month wage freeze, cut vacation time and slashed pay for sick time. It also reduced pay scales for new workers. Many of Local 254's custodial workers were upset about both the terms of the new contract and the way it was ratified. They were given less than an hour to read a summary of the new contract before they were forced to vote on it. This discontent led some of the custodial workers to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board urging them to nullify the contract.
We have previously criticized the custodial workers' contract and the process by which it was passed. Evidently, the workers who voted to form a new union were even more dissatisfied with Local 254. They did not believe that Local 254 could adequately represent them and longer, and accused it of cozying up to the University. "Many people think the leadership of 254 had to be sleeping under a crimson -colored blanket," said one musuem guard. These doubts about the management of Local 254 were the main contributing factor to the creation of the new union.
We are hopeful that the new union will be able to breathe new life into labor negotiations at Harvard. Since its formation represents a rejection of the policies and leadership style of Local 254, we assume that it will more aggressively pursue the interests of Harvard's employees. Neither Harvard nor the old union were able to ensure that workers would always be treated fairly in labor disputes. The formation of a new union is especially prescient given that the guards are currently working without a contract and will shortly begin negotiations with the University over a new contract.
However, undercutting the bold initiative of the new union are its internal divisions. While most of the security guards voted for the new union, a large majority of museum guards voted against its creation. The museum guards complain that they were frozen out of the planning for the new organizations. The security guards determined the bylaws, dues and initiation fees for the new union. Museum guards are nervous that the new alternative to Local 254 may not adequately represent them, and that security guards may attempt to take away some of their hours.
The new union must ensure that it does not become as unfair to a group of its members as Local 254 did. If it is racked by conflict and if the various groups of workers do not trust each other, then the new union may be no more successful than Local 254 in securing a living wage and decent benefits for its employees.
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