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A group of students, Harvard Club workers, and Unite Here Local 26 union representatives presented University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 with a petition on Thursday to revoke the Harvard Club of Boston’s right to use Harvard’s name in light of ongoing disputes over a new contract currently under negotiation.
The Harvard Club, a private business not affiliated with the University but serving Harvard alumni and graduates of selected affiliate schools, has been engaged in contract renegotiations with workers and representatives of Local 26 since earlier this year. Local 26 serves Boston’s hotel and food service workers, and represents the Harvard Club’s staff.
The petition, which members of the Student Labor Action Movement said garnered more than 300 signatures on Facebook and on campus, comes union and club representatives over dispute points of the proposed contract, including health care benefits and pension plans.
According to Henry M. Gomory ’17, a member of SLAM who helped with coordination efforts, impetus for the petition came from language on the website of the Office of the Provost which regulates the use of Harvard’s name to “promote the purposes of the University.”
“It comes out of thinking about, as students, what our role is in maintaining Harvard’s name,” Gomory said.
Members of SLAM met with workers to “hear about the main issues they were having” before drafting the petition, Gomory said.
“It really draws directly from the workers,” said Gomory, who emphasized SLAM’s focus on “making sure we have direct communication with the people we are advocating for, and that what we’re advocating for comes directly from their concerns.”
Yet there is dispute over the accuracy of some claims made in the petition.
Harvard Club spokesperson Diana C. Pisciotta wrote in an emailed statement that while the club “respect[s] the Harvard student group SLAM’s desire to assure that the University’s name is represented well by affiliated organizations…we believe their concern may be misfounded.”
The petition states that the health care plan proposed in negotiations would include “higher copays [and] higher deductibles,” resulting in “shifting costs onto the backs of workers,” an issue that has been of ongoing concern to Harvard Club workers and union organizers.
But Pisciotta maintained that the proposed plan includes no deductibles and lower premiums that, according to her, the club is “confident” would result in lower out-of-pocket costs for employees.
Local 26 organizer Tiffany Ten Eyck said these assertions do not account for members who use the plan with high frequency or include family members on their insurance plans.
“Workers do feel like it would be more expensive for them in the long run,” Ten-Eyck said. “What [the Harvard Club is] disregarding or misrepresenting is that when folks use the plan a lot it ends up being more costly.”
Charles E. Sileski, a union member who has worked at the Harvard Club for 13 years and is also a member of the negotiation committee, said he is “worried” about the proposed health insurance plan. Sileski’s two daughters and wife, who requires frequent care, are also on his health insurance plan.
Another main point of contention raised by the petition is employee pension plans, which were suspended but maintained at their current levels in 2012’s contract. Now, the Harvard Club is proposing a replacement of the pension plan with a 401k structure, which union representative Lila N. Goldstein says union members oppose.
“I don’t want to be afraid, I’m getting older and older each year,” Sileski said of the 401k plan. “I want to make sure my family is taken care of.”
The petition, which requests that Garber deny the Club’s right to use Harvard’s name if the cited issues are not addressed by Feb. 1, and to meet with community members to discuss the issues, was co-sponsored and presented by representatives from a variety of student groups including SLAM, the Harvard Democrats, Divest Harvard, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Harvard Islamic Society, the International Women’s Rights Collective, and the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Members from student groups met with workers and union representatives outside of Massachusetts Hall, where workers expressed concerns about the negotiations and proposed contract changes before a student and a Harvard Club worker delivered the petition inside.
—Staff writer Emma K. Talkoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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