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Harvard’s Janitors Start Bargaining for New Contract

By Brandon J. Dixon, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard and its janitorial union, which represents hundreds of employees across the University, began bargaining just after Harvard’s dining workers launched their historic strike and hope to establish a new contract by Nov. 15.

Roxana Rivera, vice president of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union’s New England branch, said the union will focus its negotiations on wage increases and health benefits in sessions starting Tuesday; their first bargaining session Oct. 7 was an introductory meeting between the two parties. Rivera drew comparisons between SEIU’s negotiations and that of HUDS, which the janitorial union has supported since the spring.

“At the core, our issues are the same in the sense of a just wage increase, and affordable health care for families here,” Rivera said. “They want to make sure that their own children have a shot at going to college.”

Rivera said SEIU told Harvard it was “in solidarity” with the striking dining workers at the janitors’ first bargaining session in October.

“These workers are workers that live in the same communities as our members do,” she said.

In a statement, Harvard spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote that Harvard looks forward to “bargaining in good faith towards a new agreement that addresses the needs of our employees.”

Rivera said the two sides will begin trading proposals Tuesday. She said the union has a set of “concrete” proposals for health care and wages, but did not specify those plans. She also did not specifically comment on how she thought HUDS negotiations would affect the SEIU’s proposals.

According to Rivera, members of SEIU do not receive their health care benefits directly from Harvard, but rather from a health care fund the union offers—similar to a health care option that Local 26 rejected. Rivera did say under the union’s health care proposal it will put forward during negotiations, Harvard would “contribute a little bit more” to the union’s fund than what the University currently pays.

Health care and wage increases have been at the center of this year’s contract talks between Harvard and its dining service workers, who are represented by the Boston-based union UNITE HERE Local 26. Initially, Harvard proposed that workers enroll in the same health benefits plan that the University’s largest union accepted in negotiations with Harvard last winter, but Local 26 rejected that offer.

And at the beginning of October, four months since the start of negotiations, HUDS workers launched their first strike since 1983 after failing to reach a contact agreement with the University. The strike is now about to enter its third week, with hundreds of HUDS employees picketing across Harvard each day.

Negotiating during the strike, the University later offered to pay into the union’s health care fund. In an email to Harvard affiliates last week, Vice President for Human resources Marilyn Hausammann detailed the specifics of that proposal, writing that Harvard would contribute 87 percent to the lowest-cost health plan the union has. Local 26 has yet to accept any of the University’s offers.

Local 26 met with Harvard on Monday for the 23rd negotiation session in this round of contract talks, but did not come to an agreement, according to Local 26 spokesperson Tiffany Ten Eyck.

—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.

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