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The University will offer a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program to library employees 55 years and older with 10 years of service under their belts, according to a University spokesperson.
Those who choose to accept the offer will receive six months’ pay, plus two additional weeks’ pay for every year of employment beyond 10 years. An employee cannot receive more than one year’s worth of salary under the package.
Approximately 275 employees are eligible for the plan. There are 930 full-time employees within the University library system.
Once they receive the details of their personal plan, workers will have 46 calendar days to decide whether or not to accept it.
Workers were informed of the program via email early afternoon Monday.
The plan is part of an ongoing restructuring of the University library system, which seeks to unify Harvard’s 73 currently independent libraries.
Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton had previously said at a town hall meeting with library employees that “the Library workforce will be smaller than it is now.”
In an email to the Crimson, a university spokesperson said that with improvement to the library system in mind, “the University is implementing a generous, voluntary early retirement program that will both offer incentives to qualifying employees who wish to retire and help the library meet the needs of its new organization.”
Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, said the offer was just another ambiguous message from the administration in a process that it has not handled well.
“It’s one more step that seems premature and that is poorly considered and not broadly enough consulted about,” Jaeger said. “There’s a record-breaking level of turmoil and anxiety among the staff. This just adds to the confusion.”
Jaeger said that this announcement did nothing to address the fact that, according to HUCTW members, the library is understaffed as it is.
“At this point, the case hasn’t been made for staff reductions,” Jaeger said. He added that if the library does not have a solid plan going forward, this program could cause it to lose money.
He also said that the possibility of a Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program was never mentioned in discussions between the union and the library.
“It’s really hard for the library staff to know what to make of the early retirement offer,” Jaeger said. “The big question that crowds out all the others is, ‘Why?’”
Karen L. O’Brien, a library assistant who noted that she was too young to take the offer, said that she thought that the announcement mirrored the steps the library took in the past when it sought staff reductions.
O’Brien said she thought that more employees were likely to accept the early retirement program if they had been previously scared by the threat of layoffs.
Since Shenton’s announcement, some library employees have taken to the streets to protest the possibility of layoffs, picketing outside of a meeting for library staff members and staging multiple public demonstrations.
Sunday night, members of Occupy Harvard took over Lamont Library Café, pledging to stay in the café until 10 p.m. on Friday in order to protest library staff reductions.
Andrew J. Pope, a doctoral student in history and Occupy Harvard supporter, said that the early retirement program leaves library employees with few options.
“If they don’t take the offer and are laid off, the family will be in a dire financial situation,” Pope said,
Rudi E. Batzell, another doctoral student in history who also supports Occupy, echoed Pope’s concerns.
“[The Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program] forces [workers] to make an economic decision without any sense of what their alternatives are,” Batzell said.
Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson associate editorial executive and a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, was skeptical about the early retirement program’s potential effectiveness.
“I think it’s stupid,” Korn said. “Harvard can’t completely revamp its library system in the next 46 days.”
The University has said it will provide more information on staff reductions over the coming weeks.
—Jane Seo contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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