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With Contingent Worker Policy Change, Major Benefits and Unforeseen Challenges

University Hall Morning
University Hall houses several administrators' offices.

As more than 150 temporary and less-than-half-time Harvard employees transition into permanent, benefited staff positions following a policy change that went into effect in March, the shift has brought “extraordinary” opportunities for some, but unintended challenges for others.

Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers Executive Director Bill Jaeger called the numbers of contingent workers a “significant reduction” during an interview last month, noting that overall use of temporary workers and less-than-half-time workers is down 15 to 20 percent compared to a year ago.

HUCTW pushed for new contingent worker rules after internal research last year revealed that roughly 300 temporary and part-time workers at Harvard worked “excessive” hours without the benefits they were owed. The union contended that temporary workers and less-than-half-time workers enjoyed fewer benefits than regular Harvard staff members, despite the similarity of their work to permanent staff.

The new contingent worker policy limits the timeframe temporary and less-than-half-time workers can be employed. The rule also bans University departments from cycling workers between temporary status and less-than-half-time more than once.

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“We’re ensuring that people… in regular roles here are getting the regular positions with benefits that they deserve,” Jaeger said.

Forty-two of those workers transitioned in the first two months after March 3, when the policy went into effect. The policy was crafted as part of HUCTW’s new contract, which was agreed upon in October 2018 after months of delays.

Director of Labor and Employee Relations Paul R. Curran wrote in an emailed statement that the new policy addresses the union’s concerns about the use of contingent workers while giving individual departments the “flexibility to manage their work and resources.”

“As with requirements of any labor agreement or employment law, decisions on resource allocation and workload management, in compliance with any such requirements, rest with leadership at the local level across University departments and units,” Curran wrote.

The University has employed 3,331 temporary and less-than-half-time workers since March 3, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain. On a day-to-day basis, however, that number is typically much fewer. On Nov. 14, for example, 1,684 contingent employees were at work across campus.

Sara M. Alfaro-Franco, a videographer in the Division of Continuing Education, worked as a contingent worker for five years before this July, when she was hired into a new permanent part-time position.

Alfaro-Franco said the transition has allowed her to access an “extraordinary” range of benefits, from health care to access to classes.

“It has really opened my doors and it’s been a world of possibilities for me,” she said.

She said that transitioning into a permanent staff role has also changed the way she views her job.

“I feel a deep investment in the University that I never felt before,” she said. “They’re taking care of me and I want to take care of them in whatever way I can, which is working hard and doing my job.”

Though her hourly pay has remained the same, Alfaro-Franco said she is now working around 30 hours a week, up from 14 before the transition.

Jeffrey Czekaj, who works as an exhibition installer in the Graduate School of Design, said he was employed off-and-on by the University for more than 10 years until he was hired as a staff member this year.

Czekaj said he felt like an “outsider” even though he worked alongside staff.

“Nobody here, like, knew our names, we weren’t invited to the meetings,” he said.

He said he ran into difficulties applying for the Massachusetts Health Connector because the agency said Harvard should be giving him insurance as his employer, but his position did not previously afford those benefits.

“I have a six-year-old kid, so my partner and I would have to figure out… whose insurance he was going to be on and now it’s easy, like, I just have insurance for my whole family,” he said.

While Czekaj and five others were hired as permanent employees under the new policy, now only six employees install exhibits compared with the eight or nine contingent workers who used to construct each one.

“This last install we definitely could have used more people,” Czekaj said. “That’s going to be a challenge going forward.”

Jaeger and Graduate School of Design spokesperson Travis Dagenais declined to comment.

William S. Davidson, another DCE videographer who transitioned to a permanent role, said he was initially “angry” about the new policy because it came with a cap of 14 hours for less-than-half time workers and he was not immediately hired full time.

He said that due to the lengths of the classes he was assigned to film, he was only able to work 11 hours per week to stay under the cap and thought about leaving.

DCE spokesperson Harry Pierre declined to comment.

Even with the videographers who were hired into part-time positions, Davidson said it has been a “challenge filling all the hours” because the remaining contingent workers are capped at 14 hours.

“The full time people in the department have had to pick up the slack. They’re doing more shoots than they did in the past, which was another thing I think that the union didn't foresee happening,” Davidson said. “The idea of the contract was to encourage Harvard to create more union positions, but I don't know if the money is there to do a lot of that."

Correction: Nov. 19, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that contingent workers serving as videographers are capped at 11 hours of work per week. In fact, the cap is 14 hours per week though scheduling issues often prevents videographers from working more than 11 hours.

Correction: Nov. 19, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that internal research last year revealed that roughly 300 temporary and part-time workers at Harvard worked “excessive” hours without overtime pay. In fact, the research showed that the workers did not receive the benefits they were owed as a result of their extra work.

Correction: Nov. 19, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the new policy requires Harvard to provide staff-level compensation and benefits for some contingent workers. In fact, the new policy limits the timeframe during which they can be employed.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang contributed reporting.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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