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By Alexander J. Blenkinsopp and Elisabeth S. Theodore, Crimson Staff Writerss

As courses go untaught and meals remain unserved at Yale University due to a campus-wide strike of thousands of employees, business continues as usual at Harvard.

But for Yale, where eight of its last eleven contract negotiations have now resulted in a strike, the sight of picketers on campus is almost business as usual.

And while Yale’s graduate students join janitors, dining hall and hospital workers as part of their own bid to unionize, Harvard teaching fellows gear up to grade the first wave of midterms.

The contrast on both counts is a telling one.

Students did storm Mass. Hall demanding a living wage two years ago, and uncertainty does surround the course of future contract talks.

But, according to union representatives at both schools, Yale’s labor problems far surpass Harvard’s—a fact they attribute not to Harvard’s great generosity, but to a difference in culture and circumstance.

A Tale of Two Universities

The Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW)—the equivalent of the striking Local 34 union at Yale—has had a rocky relationship with the University at times, but has never organized a strike.

HUCTW director Bill Jaeger said it is no accident that Harvard’s “situation is a lot stronger” than Yale’s in terms of salary and benefits.

“The character and course of union-management relations has been very different,” he said. “There’s a very strong commitment in our organization to trying as hard as we can to work with Harvard administrators.”

Yale workers are pushing for raises that would narrow—or at least prevent from widening—a gap they say exists between Yale and Harvard wages.

Jaeger estimated the average HUCTW member saw a 6.5 percent salary increase during the first year of the current contract—which runs from June 2001 to June 2004—a 5.5 percent increase this year, and will see a 5 percent increase next year.

According to Yale unions spokesperson Bill Meyerson, Local 34 and Local 35—which represents Yale’s service and maintenance workers—are asking for one-year retroactive raises of 4 and 3 percent and increases of 8.5 percent and 5.5 percent over the next three years, respectively.

Meyerson said senior administrative assistants at Harvard—represented by HUCTW—earn as much as 57 percent more than their Yale counterparts.

Although HUCTW battled with Harvard for recognition in 1988 and picketed in 1992 and 1996, Jaeger said good relationships with Harvard negotiators have grown out of past conflicts.

“I would say there are some Harvard administrators and deans who have worked hard with us to get to know each other and to try to understand each other’s concerns and respect each other’s ideas,” Jaeger said.

Meyerson cited Harvard faculty like Lamont University Professor Emeritus John T. Dunlop, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, as a contrast to Yale administrators, who he said have “zero expertise in labor relations.”

Former Harvard General Counsel Anne Taylor, who announced her resignation last June, was noted both by Harvard and union leaders for facilitating negotiations through her personal interactions.

“Especially in the last few years we have developed a very constructive union-management relationship, and I think Anne was primarily responsible for that,” HUCTW Treasurer Donene Williams said in June.

HUCTW, however, was not involved in last spring’s negotiations, which sprang from the most bitter labor dispute in recent Harvard history—the three-week long Mass. Hall sit-in by the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) in spring 2001.

Last March, janitors represented by Service Employees International Union Local 254 rallied twice outside Harvard Yard during six weeks of negotiations that eventually ended in wage hikes. In one of the actions, several students and workers were arrested for blocking traffic, but University operations were never disturbed.

Student support has been key to Harvard’s labor interests. Without the sit-in, the committee that recommended wage increases and required parity pay for outsourced workers would never have convened.

PSLM member Daniel DiMaggio ’04 said strikes have broken out at Yale but not at Harvard because the workers in New Haven are more unified.

He noted that Yale’s contract talks for both Local 34 and 35 take place at the same time, while Harvard’s negotiations are staggered. This may hinder the unification of the different labor organizations at Harvard, he said.

“At Yale, it seems that they’ve combined their struggles,” DiMaggio said.

DiMaggio said that Harvard’s relative labor calm is not the result of goodwill on its part.

“The Harvard and Yale administrations are very similar in their commitment to running a university on business principles,” he said. “Things are liable to erupt in both places.”

But from Meyerson’s perspective, Harvard has been more responsive than its New Haven counterpart.

“The fact that the administration would respond to the student sit-in the way it did reflects the understanding that [Harvard] is a community,” Meyerson said.

“I know that things are not perfect at Harvard,” he added. “I think there is a fundamental difference, though...once the workers chose to unionize, there was an acceptance of that, number one, and number two, there have been instances of real engagement.”

Planning More Than Lessons

Regardless of any differences in the two institutions’ approaches, Harvard and Yale agree on opposing the unionization of their graduate students.

“Unions are very, very useful in some labor situations, in protecting the rights of workers,” Provost Steven E. Hyman said in an interview last week. “I don’t believe that they make sense for graduate students where individual, collegial interactions seem to be the way to take care of business, as opposed to collective bargaining.”

While Yale’s graduate students—who have unsuccessfully pushed for unionization for more than a decade—constitute a significant proportion of the picketers in New Haven, Harvard’s graduate teaching fellows aren’t nearly as advanced in their own efforts to organize.

But Rebecca J. Spencer, president of Harvard’s Graduate Student Council, said several issues are likely to make unionization a high priority among graduate students in the future.

“Students want to have a clear procedure for hiring,” she said. “I ought to know how I can find out what sections I can teach.”

She also said the University should ensure a correlation between teaching fellows’ salaries and their workloads, a concern crucial to Yale’s unionization drive.

“It’s really something that comes up a lot,” Spencer said of unionization at Harvard. “This is a very important part of their lives.”

Though Harvard graduate students remain in the very early stages of organizing, some formed a committee to round up support for eventual unionization last spring.

Harvard graduate students make about as much as Yale’s graduate students—around $15,000 per year—although Spencer said other matters are far more pressing than pay.

“Salary just isn’t as big of an issue as other things, like hiring practices,” she said.

Hyman credits the University’s treatment of graduate students for the relatively small unionization push.

“I would hope that there is less interest in unionization among our graduate students than at other universities because they would feel that we’re doing our utmost to provide a good situation for them,” he said. “I hope they feel they have an open door to talk to us if they have any concerns.”

Anita Seth, a history Ph.D. student at Yale who chairs the organization spearheading the unionization drive, said the overall tenor of labor-management relations at Yale has contributed to the quicker evolution of its student organizing efforts.

“I think Yale University unfortunately has distinguished itself in the disrespect it shows for the people who do work here,” she said. “There is an employer that is unusually disrespectful and harsh.”

—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at blenkins@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elisabeth S. Theodore can be reached at theodore@fas.harvard.edu.

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