As custodians enter their final week of bargaining over their union’s contract with Harvard, union leaders say there are a number of issues—including health care, benefits, and workload—on which the University and workers have not yet reached an agreement.
In the run-up to the contract deadline, workers and union members have ramped up their efforts to draw attention and support for their campaign.
Union representatives and workers submitted a petition signed by over 400 Harvard custodians to University president Drew G. Faust earlier this month and organized two rallies in front of the Holyoke Building last Friday.
Union leaders and workers said that they are unwilling to concede current health care benefits or accept workload increases.
“Health care is something we can’t just back down on,” said Nancy B. Kohn, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 615, the union which represents Harvard custodial workers. “Harvard can’t expect the same already hardworking workers to do more—it’s just not fair,” she added.
The University defended it’s current health care plan.
"The University already pays more to cover their healthcare benefits than many other institutions,” wrote University spokesperson Kevin Galvin in an email statement. “The University also grants eligibility for healthcare coverage to custodians who work as few as 16 hours per week.”
Rudy Samayoa, a Harvard janitor and member of the negotiation committee, told ralliers on Friday that they needed to remain strong in the face of resistance from the University on workload issues.
“Harvard says we are not being overworked and that in fact they believe we can do more. We have told them this isn’t true and that we are being overworked due to layoffs that create a smaller crew to cover the same amount of work,” Samayoa said. “We have to keep on taking action and show that we demand Harvard respect our hard work.”
Kohn also discussed the importance of benefits parity between workers who are direct employees of Harvard and workers who are hired by contractors, saying that “all workers deserve fair pay and benefits.”
The custodians hired directly by the University are advocating on behalf of workers employed by private contractors such as the Facilities Maintenance Operations. The current contract for custodians employed by Harvard expires November 15th.
In particular, the union is pushing the University to provide access to the Tuition Assistance Program and childcare for contract workers.
Currently, contract workers enjoy the same “core benefits” as direct Harvard employees—including basic health care, wages, and paid time-off—under the Wage and Benefit Parity Policy, instituted by the University in 2002. The University also provides all custodians with access to the University’s Bridge to Learning program and its Literacy Program.
—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at email@example.com.