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When Arlene Yarde, a full-time Securitas guard at Harvard Medical School, was called into her supervisor’s office two years ago to discuss a tweet she had posted, she could not anticipate the upheaval that would follow their conversation.
At that meeting, Steve Barkowski — her supervisor — told her she was being suspended after working for the company for 18 years and asked her never to disclose what was said during their discussion, in particular the contents of the tweet, Yarde said. A few days later, she learned from Christopher Connolly, an area director for Securitas, that she was being transferred out of her Longwood campus post at the request of its client, a Medical School administrator.
Yarde was told her transfer was non-disciplinary, meaning the client did not have to provide a reason for its request, according to provisions of a 2016 contract guards negotiated with Securitas through their union, 32BJ Service Employees International Union. Harvard contracts Securitas North America to handle most of its security guard operations, and the company has significant say over hiring, disciplinary action, and firing.
In the two years since Yarde was transferred, she said she has only been able to find work on Harvard’s Cambridge campus for a few weeks each year and has gone unpaid the rest of the time. She now plans to file for bankruptcy.
“From that time on, I really have not worked,” Yarde said.
Barkowski did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Connolly declined to comment on Yarde’s case, calling it inappropriate to comment on personnel matters.
“Non disciplinary transfers and other types of transfers, employment actions, management rights and other terms and conditions of employment are all matters which have been collectively bargained between the Company and the Union,” Connolly wrote.
She is not alone in alleging retaliation from Securitas supervisors — last week, Joseph G. Bartuah, a Securitas guard at Harvard’School of Public Health was terminated following allegations of retaliation. Bartuah said that managers began investigating him for leaving his desk because he sent an email to his supervisors stating that one of them made “unprofessional” remarks that damaged his reputation among his colleagues.
In the case of Yarde and fellow Medical School Securitas guard Susan C. Castignetti, who was also subject to a non-disciplinary transfer in November 2018, they have not been terminated, but Securitas managers offered positions in Cambridge that were incompatible with noted personal accommodations. As a result, they are without work and pay even while still employed.
In Yarde’s case, Connolly offered her late night shifts, which she said could not take because she has young children, according to emails Yarde provided to The Crimson. In further communications, Connolly also offered Yarde various other shifts like weekends and afternoons, but she turned them down because of childcare and religious commitments. Since being transferred, Yarde said she has had to work elsewhere part time.
Last September, Connolly reached out to her and informed her of a “long term turning permanent” opportunity, according to text messages provided by Yarde. She said that after Connolly’s offer, she quit a nursing home job she had taken in the interim, but about a month after assuming the new Securitas position, the post was eliminated.
Castignetti, the other Medical School guard, said she worked overnight shifts for Securitas for six years to eventually earn a daytime shift at the school’s Warren Alpert Building. But after four years in her new position, the client — an unnamed administrator at the Medical School — requested a non-disciplinary transfer for Castignetti to the Cambridge campus.
Castignetti alleged her transfer was orchestrated by Securitas management as retaliation for requesting time off for a medical condition, and that Harvard administrators simply went along with Securitas’ request.
She said Barkowski, Securitas’ account manager at the Medical School, was unhappy with the amount of time Castignetti requested to take off because she has fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes patients to feel chronic musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.
After Securitas management refused to give her Fridays off, Castignetti said she secured the extra day off through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers up to twelve weeks off each year for medical and family reasons.
“I had tried to get Friday's off with just a doctor's note and they refused me and then I went through FMLA and got it that way,” she said. “So [Barkowski] wasn't happy that I was getting the Fridays off.”
She alleges that Barkowski asked Robert A. Dickson, director of campus services at Harvard Medical School, to request Castignetti’s transfer. She says Securitas management were aware that there were no open daytime slots in Cambridge despite knowing that she could no longer take overnight shifts because of her condition.
Dickson declined to comment, writing in an email that “this is a Securitas employment related matter.”
Gina Vild, a Harvard Medical School spokesperson, declined to comment on all the allegations against the school, referring to Dickson’s response.
Castignetti technically remains an employee of Securitas and collects health benefits, but said she has only worked four days since November, covering a short detail during winter recess. When she is not assigned to shifts, she said she does not receive a salary, and does not expect to find a new long-term assignment at Harvard at this point.
“They transferred me knowing that there's no day jobs in Cambridge because Arlene [Yarde]’s been waiting for two years. How am I going to get a position if she's been waiting two years?” Castignetti said.
Non-disciplinary transfers have been a topic of conversation in recent contract negotiations between Securitas and its workers’ union. Before 2016, Securitas was not required to make any effort to understand why its clients asked for these transfers. As of 2016, Securitas employees can still be put under non-disciplinary transfer with or without cause when the University requests so, but Securitas must now make a “good faith effort” to understand why, according to the contracts.
“We were proud to win improvements in our language about non-disciplinary transfers when we negotiated with Securitas in 2016,” Roxana Rivera, the vice president of 32BJ SEIU, wrote in an emailed statement.
Castignetti, however, said the “good faith effort” provision has not brought transparency to her case.
Rivera wrote that the union represents its members in non-disciplinary transfers on a case by case basis, and tries to ensure they can remain employed at Harvard.
“We work hard to help our members secure the schedules and job accommodations they need to maintain this employment, while facilitating a positive working relationship between the employer and the worker,” she wrote.
—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.
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