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Local 40 Pickets Harvard Project

By Jay S. Kimmelman

Union workers from a local carpenters' union are protesting a renovation project on the Harvard-affiliated Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Carpenters' Local 40 will continue picketing outside the construction site at 60 Garden St. today. The union charges that Harvard's general contractor for this project is employing illegal labor practices.

In addition, the union's leaders are accusing Harvard of reneging on oral agreements reached during past contract negotiations.

Members of the union have distributed leaflets over the past week which claim that Harvard has been hiring non-union general contractors who employ illegal labor practices.

The flyer says that C.E. Floyd, the general contractor of the Smithsonian Center project, pays inadequate wages, provides few or no benefits and regularly violates tax, insurance and legal obligations.

The flyer also accuses the University of hiring other unnamed contractors who fail to abide by labor laws.

These firms, according to the flyer, escape the legal restrictions by treating their employees as independent contractors.

Doing so allows the firms to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, state and federal unemployment taxes, workers' compensation insurance and other legally mandated payroll costs.

According to Mark Erlich, business manager for Carpenters' Local 40, Harvard is "subsidizing an underground economy."

"There is very little difference between purchasing contracting services in this way and purchasing hot boom boxes out of the back of a pick up truck," Erlich said.

University officials denied any knowledge of the illegal practices.

"We expect the contractors to be in compliance with federal and state regulations," said Merry Touborg, a spokesperson for the University's Office of Human Resources.

And Chuck Floyd, C.E. Floyd's owner, also said he was unaware of illegal practices by his subcontractors.

Additionally, he denied that it was his place to monitor all the activities of his hundreds of subcontractors.

"It is not my responsibility to audit everyone who works for me," Floyd said. "I have contracts that require them to abide by the law. I assume they are all following it properly, but there is no way for me to know."

Floyd said that the union's claims are unfounded and charged that the union is merely trying to intimidate Harvard into hiring union workers.

Contract Negotiations Dispute

Erlich also said that the University has ignored agreements it reached with the union during previous contract negotiations.

Over the last four years, the union has negotiated contracts for almost 20 University projects at wages which are 90 percent of the union's normal rates.

In exchange, Erlich said, Harvard agreed to formulate a University-wide policy setting minimal standards for the labor practice of outside contractors.

"We did the jobs, gave something to Harvard and we didn't get what we expected in return," Erlich said. "The quid pro quo never materialized, and it became clear that the University was not taking the issue seriously."

University officials denied that Harvard ever made such an agreement.

"There has never been a commitment to craft a University-wide policy concerning outside contracting, except in a very general way...providing a level playing field," Touborg said.

She declined to be more specific, saying that the individual schools normally make their own outside contracting decisions.

In response, Erlich blasted this policy as yet another drawback to the University's fiercely decentralized nature.

"This is an embarrassment to an institution with a reputation such as Harvard's that functions so incompetently at a management level," he said.

Meanwhile, the leader of at least one other union expressed support for the picketing by Local 40.

Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), said all Harvard-associated unions agree that minimum standards in labor practices are necessary.

"We think that overall there are huge problems, especially a lack of any coherent policy on what kind of company gets contracts for Harvard work and a lack of any widely observed standard about those companies' employment practices," Jaeger said

And Chuck Floyd, C.E. Floyd's owner, also said he was unaware of illegal practices by his subcontractors.

Additionally, he denied that it was his place to monitor all the activities of his hundreds of subcontractors.

"It is not my responsibility to audit everyone who works for me," Floyd said. "I have contracts that require them to abide by the law. I assume they are all following it properly, but there is no way for me to know."

Floyd said that the union's claims are unfounded and charged that the union is merely trying to intimidate Harvard into hiring union workers.

Contract Negotiations Dispute

Erlich also said that the University has ignored agreements it reached with the union during previous contract negotiations.

Over the last four years, the union has negotiated contracts for almost 20 University projects at wages which are 90 percent of the union's normal rates.

In exchange, Erlich said, Harvard agreed to formulate a University-wide policy setting minimal standards for the labor practice of outside contractors.

"We did the jobs, gave something to Harvard and we didn't get what we expected in return," Erlich said. "The quid pro quo never materialized, and it became clear that the University was not taking the issue seriously."

University officials denied that Harvard ever made such an agreement.

"There has never been a commitment to craft a University-wide policy concerning outside contracting, except in a very general way...providing a level playing field," Touborg said.

She declined to be more specific, saying that the individual schools normally make their own outside contracting decisions.

In response, Erlich blasted this policy as yet another drawback to the University's fiercely decentralized nature.

"This is an embarrassment to an institution with a reputation such as Harvard's that functions so incompetently at a management level," he said.

Meanwhile, the leader of at least one other union expressed support for the picketing by Local 40.

Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), said all Harvard-associated unions agree that minimum standards in labor practices are necessary.

"We think that overall there are huge problems, especially a lack of any coherent policy on what kind of company gets contracts for Harvard work and a lack of any widely observed standard about those companies' employment practices," Jaeger said

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