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City Council Rebukes Medical School’s Decision To Cut 31 Custodial Contract Jobs

The Cambridge City Council approved a resolution Monday evening “condemning” Harvard Medical School’s decision to cut 31 custodial contract jobs, joining a chorus of voices urging the University to reconsider the move.

In June, the Medical School told American Cleaning Company, Inc., that it planned to cancel its long-standing contract with the company. The resultant layoffs of the Medical School’s 31 custodial workers contracted through the Brighton-based subcontractor were expected to take effect on Aug. 17, but they have since been delayed to September, according to the resolution.

The decision, which preserves the jobs of the additional approximately 60 workers employed directly by the Medical School, was made in an effort to reduce the school’s operating deficit, according to Richard M. Shea, the Medical School’s associate dean for campus planning and facilities. The move is expected to save the Medical School up to $1 million, according to the draft of a July 5 internal memo obtained by The Crimson outlining proposed changes to the custodial cleaning program in the wake of the terminations.

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But at the City Council meeting, two people testified opposing the cuts, and the resolution questioned whether the cuts were needed at all.

“This cost-cutting measure is coming at the expense of the institution’s lowest-paid, least-protected workers,” states the resolution, which was introduced by Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. “It is not at all clear that Harvard has taken every conceivable measure to pare down expenses elsewhere in its budget before resorting to these terminations.”

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Gina Vild, associate dean for communications and external relations at the Medical School, wrote in an email earlier this month that the custodial workers are not the Medical School’s lowest-paid workers.

The City Council’s response to the planned terminations follows criticism from Service Employees International Union Local 615, the labor union that represents both the Medical School’s custodial workers contracted through American Cleaning Company and those hired directly. Following Harvard’s notification last month about its plans, the union began soliciting signatures in a petition, both online and in paper form, expressing opposition to the cuts. As of Tuesday, the union had collected 282 electronic signatures and 300 written signatures, according to Victoria Jaffe, a spokesperson for the union.

Also at its meeting Monday evening, the City Council voted to request that the City Manager set up a committee “to open up truthful communication” with the University regarding its plans for its 2 Mount Auburn St. property. Harvard announced last fall that it intends to sell the property, which is home to a 94-unit affordable senior housing complex. The University entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Homeowners Rehab, Inc., in March, but no deal has been finalized.

—Staff writer Maya Jonas-Silver can be reached at mayajonas-silver@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @mayajonassilver.

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