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Harvard’s Largest and Smallest Unions Push to Merge, Face Legal Challenge

By Brandon J. Dixon, Crimson Staff Writer

Though members of Harvard University's smallest and largest employee unions have decided to merge, they may face legal barriers due to the job classifications of their members.

Mitchelle A. Forrester, Harvard University Security and Museum Parking Guards Union president, said better benefits and a stronger bargaining unit are what influenced the decision to try to merge with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers.

“The contract that we have right now is a bit on the weak side,” Forrester said. “From HUSMPGU, we stand to gain a union that’s really strong and that can support us in the way that we need to be supported.”

The decision comes ahead of a June 30 expiration date for HUSMPGU’s contract with the University. HUSMPGU represents approximately 80 workers, compared to the 4,963 employees who are members of HUCTW.

According to Forrester, over 90 percent of HUSMPGU members are in favor of the merger, and indicated their support by signing a card that the unions presented to the University. But despite the groundswell of support among members, the road to merging is not a simple one.

“We’re seeing signs of a little hesitancy, or nervousness from the University about this idea that has developed in the last couple of weeks,” said Bill Jaeger, executive director of HUCTW. “We’re concerned about that, but also hopeful that we’ll be able to talk through the concerns.”

Typically, unions looking to merge have to submit a proposal through the National Labor Relations Board—the federal agency that handles labor disputes. Looking to reduce the amount of time the approval for the merger would take, HUCTW leadership instead submitted a proposal to Harvard earlier this spring, asking the Labor Relations and Human Resources department to allow them to hold an independent election through a local arbitration agency.

However, in a letter to Jaeger and Forrester last week, Director of Labor Relations Paul Curran noted a distinction in job classifications that precludes members of HUSMPGU from being represented by a non-guard union.

HUSMPGU members are classified as “guards” within their contracts. According to a section of the National Labor Relations Act, unions with guards may only be represented by unions that exclusively have guard membership—a requirement that HUCTW does not meet.

Though still in talks with union leaders, the University has suggested that the two unions forward their inquiry directly to the NRLB. However, doing so may leave the merger request unresolved until after the expiration date of HUSMPGU’s contract. In the interim, both University and union leaders have indicated a willingness to begin bargaining.

“We really want to go to HUCTW, that’s kind of our goal, but at the same time I don’t want to leave any of my members lacking in benefits,” Forrester said. “Therefore, I really want to make sure that they’re well taken care of, like they’re supposed to be.”

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

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