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Custodians Win Fight for Back Pay

By May Habib, Crimson Staff Writer

Last December, Harvard University paid more than $4,000 in retroactive wages to three custodians who were paid below the union rate for more than a year.

The three workers were employed by the Harvard maintenance contractor McGarr Services Inc., which Harvard discovered was operating under two company names—McGarr and White Glove Inc.—in a possible effort to skirt University policies regarding parity wage.

“The union brought to our attention that McGarr and White Glove were the same ownership,” said James A. LaBua, deputy director of the Office of Labor and Employee Relations (OLER). “Really, they were the same operation.”

McGarr and White Glove are listed at the same address in Brighton, Mass. and a government website shows that they share an almost identical set of business officers.

McGarr officials did not return a request for comment yesterday.

The University’s contract with custodians mandates that contractors who invoice Harvard above $50,000 annually and have contracts extending for a period longer than nine months are obligated to pay their workers a wage equal to the wage paid to Harvard’s own employees.

Both McGarr and White Glove were billing Harvard less than $50,000 annually when the discrepancy was discovered, but exceeded $50,000 when their invoices were combined, according to LaBua.

“If they can underbid another contractor by keeping wages low, they’re going to be favored in the bidding process,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 organizer Aaron Bartley yesterday.

The SEIU Local 615 represents all of Harvard’s own custodians as well as many contracted employees.

The three employees had been making $9.95 an hour when Bartley brought the matter to the OLER in Feb. 2003.

The union wage at the time was $11.85 an hour.

The employees began receiving the union wage in May 2003, but the university did not agree to give the workers retroactive pay until Nov. 2003, according to LaBua.

LaBua said that employees received checks totaling $4535.00 in late December for work performed from March 2002 to April 2003.

Bartley said it is “inexplicable” why the University waited seven months after the employees began receiving the union wage to pay back wages.

He said the OLER needs to counter bureaucratic “inertia” to catch other contractors who may not be following the rules.

“I worry that we have these unmonitored contractors that are popping up that we don’t know about,” he said.

McGarr Services continues to clean the Harvard Printing and Publication Services offices at 219 Western Ave., and White Glove cleans rooms at the Medical School.

—Staff Writer May Habib can be reached at habib@fas.harvard.edu.

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