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Union Initiates Grievance Procedures for Laid-off Workers, Alleges Contract Violation by Harvard

This past week, four people were allegedly laid off at the Harvard Extension School without the school properly following union contract procedures.
This past week, four people were allegedly laid off at the Harvard Extension School without the school properly following union contract procedures. By Jonathan G. Yuan
By James S. Bikales and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s largest union initiated grievance procedures on behalf of several Harvard Division of Continuing Education employees who were laid off last week as part of the division’s efforts to make use of similar Faculty of Arts and Sciences personnel instead.

DCE laid off facilities and mailroom staff last week as a part of the restructuring, according to DCE teaching support employee Daniel P. Jeffs, who was not laid off. DCE Director of Operations Patrick F. Shea was among those laid off. Other DCE employees have organized an email campaign raising concerns about the department’s handling of the layoffs, Jeffs said.

The Harvard Union of Technical and Clerical Workers — the union for some of the laid off employees — and DCE disagree over whether the Division followed its contractual obligation to notify HUCTW and affected employees ahead of time. That notification process includes a period of discussion to explore alternative job arrangements “when considering a layoff or possible job elimination,” according to HUCTW’s contract.

HUCTW President Carrie E. Barbash wrote in an email that the consultation “did not happen.”

“We fully support the affected members and are in close touch with them,” Barbash wrote. “Employment preservation is the core purpose of this process and it’s why layoff consultation isn’t something that we can skip or do a half-hearted job with – people’s livelihoods depend on it.”

Huntington D. Lambert, dean of the Harvard Extension School and Continuing Education, characterized the process differently, stating that the division has complied with contract provisions.

“Consistent with University policy and in coordination and compliance with the HUCTW contract, Harvard has provided advance notice, severance benefits, and outplacement services, and the impacted employees are currently receiving support to apply for other positions across the Harvard community,” Lambert wrote in an emailed statement. “These individuals are valued employees, and I regret the impact this change has had on them and their families.”

Lambert wrote that the division restructured its personnel to support the growth of the division.

“The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) has grown significantly, with our physical footprint nearly doubling over the last ten years,” Lambert wrote. “This new model will bring enhanced support for all of DCE's physical resources needs.”

Barbash rejected Lambert’s claim that the division has followed its obligations in layoffs.

“DCE and FAS HR notified us,” Barbash wrote. “They did not take part in the consultation process described in our contract where we, together, make every effort to preserve employment of the affected employees, including providing us with relevant data to assist with those discussions, among other things.”

“Over the last 30 years, Harvard departments and schools have initiated these conversations on many occasions, and almost always they do follow the consultation process laid out in our contract,” she added. “This time stands out, and is being discussed, because they did not.”

The re-alignment, announced by the division’s Associate Dean of Administration Margaret A. Mahoney last Tuesday in an email sent to the division’s employees, transfers the operations of DCE’s buildings and facilities to FAS’s Office of Physical Resources and Planning.

The announcement, however, did not mention that several employees previously responsible for those operations would be laid off, which led to concerns among employees.

“The communication was just abysmal from our senior leadership,” DCE employee Jonathan A. Singer, who was not involved in the layoffs, said. “We had two full days between when word started to spread that the layoffs were occurring before there was even an acknowledgement that this was happening from leadership.”

Singer, who serves as the division’s enrollment services team coordinator, said the speed and lack of communication that characterized these layoffs left him uncertain about his own job security.

“I’m concerned that Dean Lambert’s response to valid fears from staff of future layoffs is to trust him that none are planned,” he wrote in an email.

Singer organized an open letter campaign to DCE administrators last week after he learned of the layoffs. Fifty-six people have signed the open letter to the DCE administration, according to him.

In the letter, Singer criticized the division for laying off “employees who are hard-working, valuable, and highly respected by their colleagues” in violation of contract provisions and wrote that “these actions by management are not in line with the values we hold as an organization and as individuals.”

Correction: March 14, 2019

A previous version of the caption of the photo accompanying this article incorrectly stated that five employees had been laid off. In fact, four employees were laid off.

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

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

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