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About 25 janitors and students urged the University to grant its janitors more benefits and job security at a rally in front of the Holyoke Center last Friday afternoon.
The rally was sponsored by the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union to which Harvard janitors belong.
The protesters asked Harvard for more full-time jobs and respect for seniority rights.
For months, janitors have complaining that full-time positions have been denied to workers with many years of service under their belts and given to others who hadn’t been here as long.
Daniel Mejia, a chief steward for SEIU at Harvard, said that the university has not fulfilled its contractual obligation to provide more full-time jobs.
“In three years time, Harvard was obligated to ensure that 50 percent of the jobs on campus be full time, but they’re not doing it,” said Mejia, speaking through a translator. “They have only made around 30 percent full time and that is not the contract.”
Marilyn D. Touborg, director of communications for Harvard’s Office of Human Resources, said the lack of full-time positions for all janitors who want them is due to low attrition rates rather than any violations on the University’s part.
“The process [of establishing full-time jobs] has been slowed during the last period of time during which there were very, very few open jobs, there was very little turnover,” Touborg said.
Though the janitor’s contract is not under negotiation now, Touborg said University officials and union representatives meet regularly to iron out problems.
Seniority is a difficult issue to deal with, she added, saying that union members and University labor relations officials have different ideas of how seniority should be weighted.
To resolve these types of issues, she said, Harvard has encouraged a period of arbitration.
“Those are the kinds of things that are discussed in an ongoing fashion with all of our unions. Those are issues that are being raised through the proper channels,” Touborg said. “The union understands very well that there’s been
very few opportunities to gain jobs and that we are acting in accordance to what we agreed to in our contract.”
Mejia said that at least one case of physical abuse was also among the union’s complaints.
“A supervisor pushed a certain worker and the Harvard administration has not wanted to hear anything about it,” he said.
Mejia said the incident had occurred nearly a month ago to a male worker, but would not name the worker. He said that to his knowledge, the University had done nothing to address the issue.
Touborg, who said she could not comment on the specific case, did say that no complaint of such abuse would fall through the cracks.
“Any incident like that would go through the grievance process and certainly would need due process, investigation, in a reasonable way,” Touborg said. “This kind of thing is taken very seriously.”
The janitors also expressed concern about the timing of vacation pay.
When the University payroll system converted to Peoplesoft last October, Touborg said, the pay period for paychecks was shifted. Before, each paycheck was generated partly on the basis of work that had been done and partly on work that was still to be done.
Now, however, all pay is in arrears, which means that employees are paid only for hours they have already worked. This means that vacation pay is given to workers after they take their vacations.
The janitors’ union still wants its members to receive vacation pay before they take their vacations.
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com.
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