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Harvard Rejects Employee Unions’ Second Merger Attempt After Month of Silence

Harvard Art Museums
The exterior of the Harvard Art Museum.

Harvard plans to reject for a second time a proposed merger between its largest and smallest unions, more than three years after the two groups first sought to combine forces, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

In late September, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers formally requested that the University allow them to merge with the Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union, an independent, unaffiliated union with roughly 80 parking monitors and museum attendants. HUCTW boasts a 5,200-person membership across the University, the largest of any union.

Nearly a month after the request was filed, however, HUCTW Executive Director Bill Jaeger said Harvard has yet to acknowledge or respond to it. The Sept. 25 request letter was addressed to Harvard Director of Labor Relations and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran and several other University administrators who work with HUCTW and HUSPMGU members.

“We formally ask that Harvard management respect these workers’ right to join the Union of their choice,” the letter reads. “Harvard’s Museum Attendants and Parking Monitors have clearly and persuasively voiced their view over the past four years – to us, to key administrators, and now to the rest of the broader Harvard community.”

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Last month’s request is the second time the two unions have sought to merge. When they attempted to come together in May 2016, Harvard also rejected the request. Asked to comment on the status of the pending request, Swain said the University does not plan to change its 2016 decision. He added that a written confirmation of the University’s position is forthcoming.

In 2016, administrators cited a discrepancy between the unions’ proposal and rules spelled out in the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA mandates that all unions certified under its terms cannot have both security guards and non-security guard employees within their ranks. HUSPMGU’s membership consists of museum guards and parking monitors, while HUCTW’s members include librarians and lab workers.

Jaeger, however, challenged the efficacy of this argument, citing a voluntary option. If a union wants to operate outside the terms of the NLRA, institutions can choose to voluntarily recognize them, said Samuel Estreicher, director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at New York University, in a February interview with The Crimson.

“The guard issue is a non-issue,” Jaeger said. “It’s extremely common for employers with large units to voluntarily recognize mixed units.”

HUSPMGU President Curt E. Rheault said the unions can work with the University to solve operational or financial issues that may arise from the merger, which he anticipated might be additional concerns if the security guard question was resolved.

“We're willing to work with any of the University's concerns,” he said.

With HUSPMGU’s contract renewal negotiations set to begin next year, Rheault argued that it’s a “perfect opportunity” for his union to join HUCTW. He said special provisions in HUSPMGU’s current contract could be translated to a merged version with HUCTW that would allow for operations to proceed uninterrupted.

“We’re very open in both unions to listening to management concerns about how to make sure that we could implement the change in a way that wouldn't cause disruption to any operations in the art museums or in parking services,” Jaeger said.

For now, Rheault said that his members are “frustrated” about the status of the merger.

“HUCTW sent a letter. They [Harvard] know we want to join. But we’ve heard nothing,” he said.

“I understand they get bigger things on their plate to deal with than some orphan union, but they’ve got to remember that we’re the lowest paid employees at the University,” Rheault said. “A lot of them have these two jobs to make ends meet. So for them this is really important, like, really important.”

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at ruoqi.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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