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Harvard Clerical and Technical Workers Raise Opposing Views on One-Year Tentative Agreement

The headquarters of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers is located at 15 Mt. Auburn St.
The headquarters of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers is located at 15 Mt. Auburn St. By Santiago A. Saldivar
By Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

Ahead of a vote on a one-year tentative agreement with the University on Monday, some members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers are calling on their leadership to negotiate a higher raise, while others say accepting the 2.9 percent raise will provide immediate relief.

On Oct. 20, the union — which represents more than 5,000 employees — reached a one-year tentative agreement with the University after five months of negotiations. In addition to the raise, the agreement contains a $500 bonus for workers with at least six months of employment, tax assistance on certain Harvard courses, five extra retroactive Covid-19 paid sick days, and a 2.75 percent increase to member assistance funds.

Beginning Monday, union members will cast online ballots to ratify or reject the contract. HUCTW will announce the ratification vote results on Thursday.

Seven union members told The Crimson they have concerns with the relatively low salary increase in the agreement, with some pointing to Harvard’s record-high endowment returns and budget surplus of $283 million.

Christopher Hansen, a digital fabrication technical analyst at the Graduate School of Design, called the agreement “disappointing.”

“The weakness of the contract and the weakness of the compensation, given the budget surplus and return on the endowment, brings a lot of questions into my trust in leadership,” he said.

The agreement’s 2.9 percent pay increase — which applies to members employed for at least a year — would be the lowest among the union’s past few contracts. HUCTW’s 2018 contract included an initial 3.8 percent increase for members employed for one year or more, with 3.5 percent increases in the second and third years of the contract for the average member. The union’s 2016 and 2013 contracts included 3.4 percent annual increases for the average member.

Kevin F. Harrington, faculty assistant in Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, said he believes conceding a lower raise would decrease the union’s leverage during next year’s contract negotiations.

“If we have to spend a little more time to get things right, that’s fine,” he said. “That’s what it should be, because we just don’t want to get stuck in a position where we have less leverage in the coming year.”

“I feel if we do vote and accept something that we know to be lower than it should be now, who’s to say we [won’t] get potentially even less next year?” he added.

HUCTW President Carrie E. Barbash wrote in an emailed statement that the union negotiating team has “exhausted” every other possible compensation offer.

“When HUCTW negotiators bring a salary package to the table for a ratification vote, it is not because we don’t think our members deserve more or because we think Harvard can’t afford more, it is because we feel that we have exhausted every argument at the negotiating table and explored every avenue for push-back (and [its] viability at that moment in time) and decided that this is the best possible package we can deliver at this time,” she wrote.

Vidya Sivan, a digital communications specialist for alumni of the Kennedy School, said the news of the returns on Harvard’s endowment came toward the end of this round of contract negotiations. She said she believes it will help with negotiations next year.

“We’re actually in a better position to negotiate because the union can say, ‘We didn’t get a raise with inflation this past year, we worked really hard during the pandemic, et cetera, et cetera, and we deserve this since, look at how well the University did,’” she said.

Ceallaigh Reddy, an HUCTW local representative for Harvard Law School, said the one-year contract is “adequate for now,” saying she would prefer a more substantial raise if it were a three-year contract. She added she will vote to ratify the contract.

“I’m very supportive of it,” she said. “It was probably a difficult time for everyone to negotiate this, and I think it was well done, particularly under the circumstances.”

Paul Sherman, a faculty assistant at the Kennedy School who has been with the union for around 13 years, said the debate around the tentative agreement demonstrates that members are engaged.

“In some ways, this is not as much of a slam dunk as previous contracts, so that’s why I think this discussion is healthy and merited and that’s kind of good to see,” he said.

Sherman said he is unsure how he will vote next week. Though the contract is not ideal, he said, he has “confidence” union negotiators accepted the agreement as part of a long-term strategy.

“This is sort of like a stop-gap contract, and then hopefully we can do better in a year,” he said.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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