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Last week, Harvard’s dining hall workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike after more than three months of stagnant contract talks. But this is not the first time UNITE HERE Local 26, the union that represents HUDS employees, has brandished the threat of a strike in the face of static negotiations.
Harvard’s dining workers have threatened to strike at least seven times since the 1930s, when the University first began negotiations with bargaining units across campus. Of those, they have only executed three strikes. The last walkout occurred in 1983 when Harvard announced it intended to hire outside contractors in the dining halls.
According to Brian Lang, the current president of Local 26, if HUDS does strike, it will mark the first time the union does so during the academic year. In the past, the strikes occurred during Harvard’s recesses, only minimally affecting the daily operations of the University.
HUDS has been bargaining with the Harvard for the past three months, and its contract was extended in mid-June. The contract included a no-strike clause that expired, when the contract did, on Sept 17. Members of Local 26 voted 591-18 in favor of striking if the talks have not progressed by the next scheduled bargaining session on Sept. 27.
All of Harvard’s nine unions have often employed different negotiation tactics with the University. While in the past, Local 26 has shown an inclination towards threatening strike, Harvard’s largest union, Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical, has not generally done so.
Though their most recent talks with the University were lengthy, HUCTW members did not put forth a strike vote. In an interview last winter, Donene M. Williams, a member of the negotiation team for HUCTW, credited this to the bargaining units’ willingness to collaborate.
“It wasn’t just a simple conversation of the University saying ‘Here, we’d like to take this’ and us saying ‘no thanks,’” Williams said. “It was a lot more nuanced than that. There was a lot of discussion about why the University believed it would be a great idea for everyone to be on the same plan, and we didn’t disagree with that—we just didn’t believe that it was the right plan.”
Lang said he thinks a similar tone of mutual respect is missing from Local 26’s current discussions with the University.
“It’s been our experience that when we sit down with employers who are willing to take a genuinely collaborative approach, and are willing to treat each other as equals, we’ve been able to come up with solutions,” Lang said, adding that a strike could be averted if the union feels Harvard “genuinely” approaches the remainder of the negotiations as a collaborative effort.
University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in a statement that Harvard is “committed to bargaining in good faith towards an agreement that recognizes our colleagues’ important contributions while supporting the University’s core mission of research, teaching and learning.”
—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.
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