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Facing Uncertainty and Unemployment, Employees Express Concerns About Future of Working at Harvard

After their jobs were altered and lives upended by the COVID-19 crisis, University employees working across a broad range of trades and fields said they are concerned they will be out of work and pay when the school's extension of guaranteed pay and benefits comes to an end on June 28.
After their jobs were altered and lives upended by the COVID-19 crisis, University employees working across a broad range of trades and fields said they are concerned they will be out of work and pay when the school's extension of guaranteed pay and benefits comes to an end on June 28. By Madeline R. Lear
By Davit Antonyan, Crimson Staff Writer

After their jobs were altered and lives upended by the COVID-19 crisis, University employees working across a broad range of trades and fields said they are concerned they will be out of work and pay when the school’s extension of guaranteed pay and benefits comes to an end on June 28.

Carrie Barbash, president of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers — which represents more than 5,000 workers across diverse work areas — said the union is glad the University extended its pay guarantee, but many members remain concerned that they will face loss of pay once the guarantee expires, four months after it was enacted.

Harvard Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp announced in an email sent to staff and faculty last month that the University would extend guaranteed compensation and benefits to directly-hired and contracted workers through June 28, past its previous guarantee through May 28.

However, given the unprecedented financial concerns Harvard is facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lapp suggested there may be a need for furloughs and layoffs for some workers in the future — though it remains unclear whether the University will pursue such actions.

Barbash said the possibility of layoffs and furloughs is a key concern for HUCTW members, and that the union would like the University to extend the compensation guarantee past June 28.

“Ideally, we’d like to just see the pay extended for another month or longer,” Barbash said.

She added that the union is primarily focused on guaranteeing no members face unemployment due to financial shortcomings from the University.

Roel R. Torres ’95, a laboratory administrator in the Chemistry Department, wrote in an email that he is concerned by the fact that the University set a firm date through which it would guarantee pay and benefits to employees.

“It does concern me that there is a specified date, as opposed to extending pay and benefits indefinitely,” Torres wrote. “Realistically, I understand that Harvard cannot sustain losses in perpetuity. Nobody can. But it does create a looming specter on the horizon as we get closer to June 28.”

He added that though his lab is better situated for remote work than many others, he worries for his colleagues due to the uncertainty in employment after June 28.

“I worry about furloughs and layoffs, not even specifically for myself, but for my friends and colleagues who would be affected by a loss of income and benefits,” Torres said.

Victoria Groves-Cardillo, who works as a communications and events manager at the Kennedy School, said that though she is able to perform some of her job functions from home, many of her coworkers in events organization are concerned that they will be left out of work.

She said she hopes the University will continue to support its workers as it has done so far.

“I would hope that the University would continue their current level of support for all of us, but especially for those folks who can't do their jobs while this is happening,” Groves-Cardillo said.

Barbash also said some HUCTW members were concerned with using up their sick time and personal days too quickly, along with being unable to deal with family responsibilities at home.

Harvard’s advanced sick leave policy requires workers to use their accrued sick time to maintain compensation while dealing with COVID-19 related concerns, including caring for family members. If they use up all their available sick days, the policy allows for employees to take out a loan of extra time that will be deducted from their sick time for next year.

Groves-Cardillo said that as a “full-time worker and full-time caregiver” for her two-year-old daughter, managing her work schedule in tandem with her husband’s has posed an additional challenge.

She also said her supervisors have been supportive in allowing her flexibility in her work schedule, as she often has to finish her work late at night.

“I know it’s not true for everyone but flexibility is key and it’s helpful to a lot of people when it can be provided,” Groves-Cardillo said.

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at davit.antonyan@thecrimson.com.

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