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Targeting an Alumni Audience, Protesters Oppose HMS Custodial Cuts

By Madeline R. Conway, Crimson Staff Writer

A group of workers, students, and union members gathered at the Harvard Club of Boston late Tuesday afternoon to raise awareness among Harvard alumni about the planned cuts of 31 custodial contract jobs at Harvard Medical School.

Tuesday’s protest, which came as part of an ongoing effort to speak out against the cuts, drew approximately 15 people, according to Eliza Sparkes, a communications specialist for the Service Employees International Union 32BJ District 615. Sparkes previously worked for SEIU Local 615, which merged with SEIU 32BJ over the summer.

In a gathering that Sparkes described as “more of a leafleting and delegation” than a rally, the group distributed flyers about the cuts, and also left a letter for the general manager of the Harvard Club of Boston describing their complaints. “Our presence was definitely known,” Sparkes said.

The cuts come as a result of the Medical School’s decision to cancel its contract with American Cleaning Company, Inc., a Brighton-based subcontractor that contracts the 31 custodial workers. Harvard notified the company of the decision in June. Richard M. Shea, the Medical School’s associate dean for campus planning and facilities, has cited the Medical School’s “high operating deficit” as reasoning behind the cuts, which are anticipated to save up to $1 million for the Medical School.

“We respect the right for people to protest,” Shea said in a phone interview on Tuesday evening. “But our position really hasn’t changed. We’re really trying to offset a pretty significant deficit at the Medical School, and we felt that cancelling this contract, among many other initiatives, helps us get back on track and help preserve the mission of the School.”

Shea said that, in an effort to address the deficit, the Medical School is trying to “engage our whole community on what changes we can make to our operating model.” He cited energy conservation efforts, among others, as an example. He also emphasized that the Medical School’s custodial workers who are hired directly by the School will keep their jobs with the contract’s cancellation.

Still, workers, union members, and others in the community have raised concerns about the planned cuts. Online and paper petitions protesting the cuts circulated throughout the summer, and dozens of people attended two rallies at the end of July opposing the cuts. Also in July, the Cambridge City Council approved a resolution “condemning” the decision.

The cuts were expected to take place on Aug. 17 and then were later delayed to September. Shea said on Tuesday that the Medical School is still working out the details of when the actual cuts will take place; he said that the School hopes to finalize the plans sometime this fall, and that it will probably be sometime in October.

Sparkes said that the opposition to the cuts will continue if the Medical School moves forward with its decision.

“As long as the layoffs are still on the table, then we’re going to continue to have actions and make our presence felt and reach out to all members of the Harvard community to ask them for their support to stop these layoffs because we just don’t think that they’re necessary,” Sparkes said.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Sept. 18, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the union that joined other protesters at the Harvard Club of Boston on Tuesday. In fact, the union is called Service Employees International Union 32BJ District 615 following the merger of SEIU Local 615 and SEIU 32BJ this past summer.

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