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Harvard’s bargaining unit is optimistic that it will avoid a strike with its dining services workers this week, but it has a “contingency plan” in place in case negotiations reach an impasse.
According to Harvard University Dining Services spokesperson Crista Martin, the University has a “contingency plan to ensure a minimum of disruption for the community” if its employees go on strike. She did not elaborate further on what those plans would look like. Paul R. Curran, director of labor relations for the University, said meanwhile he thinks he will be able to hammer out a contract with UNITE HERE Local 26—which represents HUDS workers—though the negotiations have already been extended from June.
“I’m going to stay there as long as they need to get a deal done,” Curran said. “I’m always optimistic that I’ll get a deal done.”
HUDs workers are demanding an increased minimum salary—requesting at least $35,000 per year despite hours worked—and altered health benefits, a topic that has previously been contentious not just with HUDS negotiations, but also with members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Laquiesha N. Rainey, a union organizer and HUDS worker, said last Thursday that she believes Harvard is likely to either hire temporary contractors to supplement any non-union employees within the dining services, or provide undergraduates with vouchers to dine at Harvard Square venues.
A voucher program could be similar to a grant Harvard provided to students on financial aid who stayed on campus over spring break. That grant allocated a total of $225 for the week—$25 per day—to each student to pay for food. Should a similar $25 per day system be implemented, the College could stand to pay almost $167, 500 for the undergraduate student body each day to subsidize dining in Harvard Square.
According to Curran, the threat of an impending strike only minimally affected a bargaining session between Harvard and Local 26 last Friday, days after HUDs workers rallied in support of a strike. He commended the composure of Local 26’s union representative, Michael Kramer, during the session.
Strikes have been few and far between throughout Harvard’s relationship with organized bargaining units, though in 1983, at least 500 food service workers walked off the job.
Peer institutions have previously seen conflicts with their dining services staffs. The most recent food services strike at Yale in 2003 prompted the university to cease dining hall operations entirely. In lieu of preparing food, Yale provided “rebates” for restaurants in New Haven to its undergraduate population for the duration of the three-week strike.
Local 26’s current contract with the University was initially set to expire in mid-June, but the deadline for expiration was extended to Sept. 17 as Harvard and the union continued to bargain over health care and wage increases.
Curran said Harvard has proposed a few bargaining sessions past Sept. 17, but as of Friday had not heard back from the union about whether they will meet.
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
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